N.C. State professor's work is saving lives in war zones

RALEIGH — On the morning of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, men and women all over the country decided to join the military. What Michael Steer decided that day probably saved the lives of some of them.

Steer, an N.C. State professor of electrical and computer engineering, and a naturalized citizen from Australia, was meeting with Army researchers when the attack came. He says he immediately knew that he wanted to fight terrorism by drawing on his years of research on the interactions between energy fields and electronic devices.

He worked every day, including weekends and holidays, from 2002 through 2005 on technology that saved the lives of hundreds of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, the commanding general of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, said Thursday.

Devices based on his work prevent the enemy from triggering roadside bombs with wireless devices such as cell phones. Improvised bombs have been the largest killer of U.S. troops in Iraq and now Afghanistan, causing more than 60 percent of fatalities there.

"This is a game-changer in modern warfare," said Maj. Gen. Nick Justice, who came from Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland to give Steer a special civilian award — the U.S. Army Commander's Award for Public Service — at a ceremony Thursday on NCSU's Centennial Campus.

The way that Steer's work is used is classified, Justice said. In fact, it's so sensitive he declined to say when it was deployed in the two war zones.

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