Dick Smyser Community Lecture: "Drones: Making Sense of the World Below"

Dr. Peter Fuhr and ORNL Co-presenters: Dr. Erica Grant, Elizabeth Piersall, Emma Foley


City Room (A-111), Coffey-McNally Building, Roane State Community College, 

Oak Ridge Branch Campus, 701 Briarcliff Ave.



Flying cameras and remote sensors through the air, drones provide a bird’s-eye perspective of events difficult to detect at ground level. In addition to their military applications, drones are used to meet civilian needs such as traffic surveillance, power-line inspection, aerial home inspections and post-disaster search-and-rescue operations. But researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and elsewhere are increasingly using sensor-laden drones—they call them uncrewed aerial systems, or UAS’s – in scientific investigations of events on Earth, including wildfires, oil-and gas fracking and electric utility operations. Peter Fuhr and three co-presenters will speak on ORNL research using drones.




Dr. Peter Fuhra distinguished scientist at ORNL, serves as both the group leader of ORNL’s Grid Communications and Security Group and the technical director of the Unmanned Aerial Systems Research Center. His research activities include on-orbit satellites, assessment of appropriate techniques for rural broadband communications, mobile sensors, systems for use in wildfire situations and sensors and techniques for currency verification and security. Fuhr’s pioneering research in fiber-optic sensors earned him a Presidential Award for Excellence in Research. He has authored and delivered hundreds of technical journal and conference publications and presentations. He is a Life Senior Member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and a Fellow of the International Society for Automation. He holds bachelor’s degrees in physics and mathematics from Beloit College and M.S.E. and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering from Johns Hopkins University.

Peter Fuhr and Drone


ORNL Co-workers


Dr. Erica Grant, who has a B.S. degree in physics from Virginia Tech and a Ph.D. in quantum sciences and engineering science from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville (UTK), is founder and CEO of Quantum Lock Technologies. She is developing quantum security technology and software for door/key management, initially for hotels and manufacturing facilities. She holds a patent and has acquired about $500,000 in funding for her startup.


Elizabeth Piersall, who has a B.S. degree in physics from Virginia Tech, is a Ph.D. candidate in the Data Science and Engineering Program at the Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education at UTK. She has conducted research related to analysis of signals indicating power system grid distortions, detection of asbestos during wildfire operations, candidate technologies for rural broadband deployment, future electric grid communications and analysis of cicada brood X sounds (by recently surfaced male cicadas that sing to attract mates). 


Emma Foley is also a Ph.D. candidate in the Data Science and Engineering Program at the Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education at UTK. She holds a B.S. degree in civil engineering from the University of Notre Dame and B.S. and M.S. degrees from Saint Mary’s College in mathematics and data science respectively. She is investigating the use of novel engineering mathematics in the analysis of power grid data. Specifically, she is examining Warped Gaussian Processes for their application in interpretable analysis of power grid data that is collected via remote sensing from drones.


The above two co-presenters are doctoral candidates under the guidance of Fuhr.