2006 Science, Technology and Environment

Norden E. Huang

Pioneering research to test and improve NASA spacecraft, earthquake-proof buildings, bridges, submarines, medicines and more.

When you win NASA’s Invention of the Year, chances are you’re working on some pretty complex issues that anyone without a PhD might have difficulty understanding. That’s certainly the case with the 2003 award winner Dr. Norden Huang. But while the details of Dr. Huang’s work may be difficult to comprehend, anyone who sees the practical applications of his work can grasp its importance.

Dr. Huang’s pioneering research led to the development of the Hilbert-Huang Transform (HHT) technology, a revolutionary, adaptive set of signal-analysis algorithms. Signal analysis is the extraction of information from a signal. Unlike precursor technologies, HHT provides an effective method for analyzing nonlinear and nonstationary signals (such as those occurring in natural phenomena) while improving the accuracy of linear and stationary signal analysis. Dr. Huang began developing HHT in 1995 and continues to improve the technology. HHT was the 2003 NASA Government Invention of the Year and was cited as “one of the most important discoveries in the field of applied mathematics in NASA history.”

The importance of Dr. Huang’s research on HHT is well demonstrated by the benefits and versatility the technology offers to a wide variety of fields.

Within NASA, Dr. Huang’s work with HHT is benefiting analysis of wing-flutter tests and the next generation of aircraft design. His research has also contributed to shuttle mission safety by using HHT to test the tiles that insulate the shuttle in space for the Shuttle Return to Flight Project. HHT also helps NASA look for additional planets and black holes.

HHT also might become a useful weapon in the war on terror. Federal investigative organizations are working to incorporate this technology into systems to analyze speech patterns and identify individuals in recordings in forensic examinations.

The Navy is using HHT in its research to improve submarine design and to more easily identify and locate different types of submarines.

The Federal Highway Administration is using HHT in a variety of research areas, including monitoring the vibration of bridges to determine how safe they are and highway design and engineering studies. According to FHWA, HHT has been a critical element for accurate data analysis.

For the medical field, HHT is helping researchers understand biomedical and physiological phenomena, which enables them to improve diagnoses and treatments, including drug design, sensors, devices, imaging, and tissue engineering. Specifically, Dr. Huang is involved in research at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, using HHT to better understand how a wide variety of diseases, including avian flu and Dengue Fever, are propagated. HHT is also being used at Harvard Medical School’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) to help sharpen the diagnosis of sleep apnea and to detect patients with impaired blood flow regulation in the brain, a condition that may increase the risk for stroke.

Business and financial industries can use HHT to analyze complex trends and gain new insights into economic and market data.

Looking at this list of ways that Dr. Huang’s work has the potential to improve the quality of life for all Americans and to meet critical national needs, there is one other thing that is easy for anyone to understand, Dr. Norden Huang is an extraordinary public servant.