A University of Arkansas scientist has developed a technology that makes undersea mud as clear as water, revealing deadly land mines. Now, she’s adapting the technique to detect a type of biological land mine — breast-cancer tumors. Magda El-Shenawee, an associate professor of electrical engineering, is adapting her rough-surface computational analysis — which, put very simply, is an algorithm that models dirt — to detect breast tissue cells that have gone awry. It turns out seeing through dirt is not so different from seeing through breast tissue.She’s collaborating with University of Arkansas professor Fred Barlow to develop, design, build and test a microwave imaging system to detect early stage breast cancer. “Eventually, we may be able to use this technology to not only reveal whether a tumor is present,” said Barlow, “but to find out what type of tumor it is.”
The work stems from El-Shenawee’s previous work at Northeastern University in Boston, where she developed the land-mine detection technique. Using a supercomputer and an extremely fast technique called “steepest descent fast multilevel multipole method,” or SDFMM, she worked out computational models that sift through ocean mud to find explosive devices.