‘Visionary’ Radar Researcher Remembered with GTRI Lab Dedication

Published: August 31, 2011

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Rickey Cotton’s fellow researchers, family and supervisors honored his memory by naming a Georgia Tech Research Institute lab space for him.

Located at GTRI’s Cobb County Research Facility (CCRF), the Rickey B. Cotton Electromagnetic Phenomenology Laboratory is a tribute to the late researcher, one whom many credit with forming the Sensors and Electromagnetic Applications Laboratory (SEAL) into the high-profile lab it is today.

A reception was held Aug. 10, 2011, in the lab space, which contains two anechoic chambers for antenna testing. Cotton’s widow Annette received a desk-top plaque from SEAL Division Chief Barry Mitchell. A simple brushed aluminum plaque—described as something Cotton would have appreciated—is mounted on the outside of one of the chambers to show appreciation for his 27 years of service.

Other family, friends and coworkers, along with Georgia Tech Executive Vice President for Research Steve Cross, GTRI Director Bob McGrath, SEAL Director Bill Melvin and Electromagnetic Lab manager Juan Santamaria crowded into the lab area, reminiscing about Cotton’s impact on GTRI and their lives. Ms. Cotton spoke softly, thanking everyone for efforts to honor her late husband.

“Dedicating this lab is something we’ve wanted to do for a while,” Melvin said. “I think about Rickey a lot. He was enthusiastic about everything, and he was very supportive when I was named lab director. He made us all feel like anything was possible.”

Cotton, who joined GTRI as a research engineer in 1980, envisioned expanding SEAL and moving into newly emerging research. Although he had many contributions, he was instrumental in forming the relationship with the Office of Naval Intelligence that SEAL and GTRI still have today.

He spent his career in power/electrics and in electromagnetics, and was a protégé of Richard C. Johnson, the inventor of the compact range for testing different radar antenna on various objects. Cotton was responsible for the power and control design and development for the compact radar range GTRI built at Fort Huachuca in 1989. In 2000, Cotton was named a division chief. He died in 2007.

“I met Rickey in the summer of 2003, when I first came to GTRI,” Cross said. “He had really good ideas and comments on how SEAL could have a greater impact at GTRI. As I look around the room and see the people he’s impacted, I know that he’ll live on.”

The lab houses the two chambers, one about twice the size of the other, along with equipment for reading information. Shielded from outside interference, researchers use the chambers for electromagnetic compatibility testing with RF emissions. The full anechoic chamber may be able to be used for antenna measurements, including patterns, gain, impedance and voltage standing wave ratio (VSWR), among others. “We support a lot of research efforts for many different agencies,” Mitchell said.

Originally located in rooms separated by a hallway, recent renovations of the CCRF have allowed the space to be opened up by removing the walls. According to Mitchell, there is plenty of room to move around and stage equipment—a change Cotton strove for while still at GTRI.

“He was a visionary, as far as understanding how antennas and RF [radio frequency] works,” Mitchell said. “He helped develop GTRI’s field ranges and other testing facilities, and he worked hard to get the best tools and best people he could.”