Island University Receives National Science Foundation Award for Drone with Gas Emission Sensors

| Published: October 15, 2015

Island University Receives National Science Foundation Award for Drone with Gas Emission Sensors

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi’s latest grant from the highly competitive National Science Foundation Major Research Instrumentation Program will support the development of an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) that can detect emissions from oil and gas pipelines and plants.

The three-year grant totaling $539,998 is the first UAS-focused grant from the National Science Foundation awarded to the University. 

Since 2012, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi has received the second highest dollar amount in Texas from this grant program, behind only the University of Houston. Both universities have received this program funding for four projects.

“These numbers speak for themselves, and reinforce the high caliber of research happening at the Island University,” said Dr. Flavius Killebrew, President and CEO of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. “This is right in line with our goal of becoming an emerging research university, increasing both the research dollars we bring in, and the amount and quality of projects our researchers and students develop.”

Dr. Ahmed Mahdy, Associate Vice President for Research, Commercialization and Outreach, and several other researchers, including undergraduate and graduate students, will build and program a UAS, sometimes called a drone, with precise sensors that is able to fly over areas such as oil wells to measure the atmosphere’s chemical components and optical and infrared imagery. The measurements can help identify the source of any excessive emissions and may also be used to monitor and ensure air quality meets environmental standards. 

A UAS with these capabilities would be in demand in the oil and gas industry, particularly in areas such as the Eagle Ford Shale where locations can be remote and such testing by standard means is costly, difficult to deploy, and can be less effective than desired.

 “We are excited to be at the forefront of development in UAS technology that is poised to change the way business is done in the oil and gas field,” Mahdy said. “Projects like this can help companies operate efficiently and work to keep us all safe.”

The technology developed in association with this project can be expanded for further research in the environmental arena, Mahdy said.

Mahdy, who is a member of the Computer Science faculty, leads an interdisciplinary team of principal investigators including:

  • Dr. David Bridges, Associate Professor and Chair of Engineering
  • Dr. Richard Coffin, Professor and Chair of Physical and Environmental Sciences
  • Dr. James Gibeaut, Endowed Chair of Geospatial Sciences at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies
  • Dr. Michael Starek, Assistant Professor of Geospatial Engineering

The grant’s impact spreads across Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, into 14 research projects totaling $8.7 million. It will also help support nine cross-disciplinary investigators, five early-career researchers, four doctoral researchers, seven graduate and 12 undergraduate students.

The technology developed in this project will also be integrated into computer science, engineering, physical and environmental sciences courses.

In addition to this grant award, the College of Science and Engineering has been awarded National Science Foundation Major Research Instrumentation grants in each of the past three years totaling approximately $1.36 million. These funds have helped the university establish a state-of-the-art stable isotope laboratory and develop its high-performance computing capacity.


About Texas A&M  University-Corpus Christi: Offering more than 80 of the most popular degree programs in the state, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi has proudly provided a solid academic reputation, renowned faculty, and highly rated degree programs since 1947. The Island University has earned its spot as the premier, urban doctoral-granting institution in South Texas, supporting a UAS test site, two institutes and more than 20 research centers and labs. Discover your island at


About the College of Science and Engineering: The College of Science and Engineering is preparing students in an array of life-changing studies such as aerodynamics, software development, genomics, and marine science. Engineering majors are finding solutions to problems using unmanned technologies. Marine scientists are working in the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific to identify new species and harmful algal toxins. The University is also home to a nationally certified Computer Science program, the Plasma Engineering Research Lab, the nation’s premier Geographic Information Sciences (GIS) program, and the Center for Coastal Studies.