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Press Release

Jonathan Potts

For immediate release:
March 16, 2005

U.S. Army Honors Carnegie Mellon Professor For Training Soldiers To Detect Land Mines

James Staszewski
PITTSBURGH—Carnegie Mellon University Psychology Professor James Staszewski has received the Commander's Award for Public Service from the commanding general of Fort Leonard Wood, a U.S. Army post in Missouri, for his work to improve the ability of soldiers to detect land mines.

Staszewski, a cognitive psychologist whose research examines the nature of human expertise, has worked with the Army since 1998 to train soldiers to find land mines. Previously, soldiers were finding only about 15 percent of land mines. Staszewski devised an approach called cognitive engineering that trains soldiers to adopt the techniques of an Army veteran with more than 30 years of experience in land mine detection. The system builds on research that Staszewski conducted with the late Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon, an expert in human expertise and decision-making. Army tests have found that soldiers using Staszewski's system have raised their mine detection rate to 87 to 100 percent.

"Dr. Staszewski is totally dedicated to our soldiers and marines. He has a mission to serve our soldiers. He is an outstanding researcher who is able to apply solutions to real world problems. Most of all, he is an extremely effective trainer, highly respected by every soldier he ever trained," said Alan Davison, chief of the Maneuver and Mobility Branch of the Army Research Lab, Human Research Engineering Directorate.

Soldiers use handheld metal detectors to find land mines, but modern mines are plastic and contain very little metal. The Army chalked up the soldiers' failure to detect plastic mines to inadequate technology, but Staszewski found that the soldiers were not trained as well as could be to use the equipment, which humanitarian demining organizations were using with greater success, to find low-metal mines. His research revealed that expert minesweepers studied mine "footprints" and discovered recurring patterns in how the mines were laid. He also found that experts had learned to compensate for the metal detectors' deficiencies by altering how they swept the detectors over the ground, slowing the rate of their sweeps and using the detectors to find the edges and centers of the mines.

The Army used Staszewski's system to train soldiers in the use of a more sophisticated metal detector, and detection rates now hover at around 98 percent. Staszewski has been pleasantly surprised by the success of his work and gratified by the Army's accolades.

"Fort Leonard Wood is preparing people to go to war. That they are taking time to pay attention to civilian work is a considerable honor for me but also pretty humbling and motivating," he said.


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