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ALERT Program

Kurt Jaisle Selected as Finalist in IEEE AP-S Student Paper Competition May 30, 2017

ALERT Student and Northeastern University Scholar, Kurt Jaisle has been selected as a finalist in the 2017 IEEE Antennas and Propagation Symposium’s (AP-S) Student Paper Competition for his paper, “Ray-Based Reconstruction Algorithm for Multi-Monostatic Radar in Imaging Systems.” Being selected as a finalist is quite an accomplishment, as each paper submitted to the IEEE AP-S Student Paper Competition undergoes three independent reviews from experts in the student’s field of study. Kurt’s submission was selected out of 159 papers, most of which were submitted by doctoral students. Kurt is a third year undergraduate student majoring in Electrical Engineering and conducts ALERT research with Professor Carey Rappaport on the R3 Research Thrust (Bulk Sensors & Sensor Systems).

The topic of Kurt’s paper is relevant to aviation security within the Homeland Security Enterprise. According to Kurt, “Today’s airport security scanners use very computationally demanding algorithms to process sensor data into an image of a passenger. As a result, these scanners require expensive, high-performance computers to complete the algorithms in a reasonable amount of time.  Yet even with these powerful machines, it can still take several seconds for a scan to be processed.” In his paper, Kurt details a new algorithm that would result in significantly faster processing times (resulting in shorter lines at airport security checkpoints) and a reduction in the cost of the computer hardware used in scanners, potentially making the technology more accessible for broader security applications.

Under the guidance of Professor Rappaport, Kurt began coding the algorithm in the fall of 2015. Over the course of a year, Kurt brought the algorithm from a rudimentary 2D simulation to a functional 3D simulation worthy of publication. Reflecting on his experience conducting research with Professor Rappaport, Kurt states, “Aside from a great deal of technical knowledge, I think the most important thing I have learned from Professor Rappaport is to not leave an endeavor half-finished. Even when I was stuck on a technical challenge for weeks at a time, he would remind me that progress in research is non-linear and that it was worth seeing it through so that I could eventually share my work with the broader community.

Kurt’s interest in engineering was sparked during middle school, when he became involved in FIRST Robotics, a program that aims to develop young STEM leaders through robotics competitions. As time passed, Kurt became interested in the electrical side of engineering and decided to study Electrical Engineering at Northeastern University. After graduation, Kurt plans to pursue a master’s degree in the context of analog electronics, and is hoping that his upper level Electrical Engineering courses, co-op opportunities, and research experiences will help him choose a specific topic of study.

Kurt will present on his selected paper at the IEEE AP-S Symposium in San Diego, California in July. The Student Paper Competition Committee Chair will announce the first, second, and third place winners at the IEEE A-PS Symposium’s Annual Awards Ceremony.

ADSA16: Bringing Transportation Security Stakeholders Together May 30, 2017

The Sixteenth Advanced Development for Security Applications (ADSA16) Workshop was held on May 2-3, 2017 at Northeastern University in Boston with 160 participants in attendance. The theme for the workshop was “Addressing the Requirements for Different Stakeholders in Transportation Security,” which explored the stakeholder perspectives of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), airlines, vendors, passengers, academia, and national labs.

Some of the topics discussed at ADSA16 were methods and technologies to optimize airport security checkpoints; emerging technologies; explosives trace detection; deep learning; and techniques and strategies for securing soft targets (malls, arenas, outdoor events).

ADSA16 was unique from previous workshops, because it included the involvement of airline representatives from Alaska Airlines and Jet Blue, who discussed the importance of forming partnerships with aviation security stakeholders during an insightful panel discussion.

The ADSA Workshop series has been convened by the DHS Center of Excellence (COE) for Awareness and Localization of Explosives-Related Threats (ALERT) since 2009. Originally named the “Algorithm Development for Security Applications” Workshop series, the name was changed following ADSA10 in 2014 to reflect how the scope of the workshop series has expanded well beyond algorithms. The ADSA Workshop series is intended to address research opportunities that may enable the development of next-generation systems and to facilitate collaboration and innovation between researchers from academia, national labs, and industry.

The next ADSA Workshop (ADSA17) will be held at the same location on October 17-18, 2017 with the theme “Systems Engineering of Aviation Security Systems.” Specific topics that will be addressed include requirement specifications for systems and subsystems; the acquisition and use of metadata; assessment, management, and use of risk; and layered security. ADSA17 is expected to continue to draw interested and engaged communities from the Homeland Security Enterprise.

For more information about the upcoming ADSA17, please visit the ADSA17 information page. To read up on previous ADSA Workshops, check out ALERT’s collection of final reports.

ALERT & Gordon-CenSSIS Scholars Delivered Final Presentations May 30, 2017

May, 2017

This year, ALERT and Gordon-CenSSIS had the honor of hosting 15 freshmen engineering students as participants in the ALERT and Gordon-CenSSIS Scholars Program.

After two semesters of active involvement in the program — which includes participation in an ALERT or Gordon-CenSSIS research project, K-12 STEM outreach, and Scholar meetings, seminars and activities — they completed the program on Wednesday, April 12, 2017, when they presented their final research presentations to their faculty advisors and other members of the Scholars community. The final presentations consisted of a 2-minute “elevator speech” from each student, which provided an overview of their research project’s overall mission and activities, their specific contributions to the project, as well as a description of the knowledge and skills they gained.

The ALERT and Gordon-CenSSIS Scholars Program is designed to provide freshmen engineers with the opportunity to get involved in research and STEM outreach, but also focuses on building their professional development. Throughout the year, Scholars attended seminars on Public Speaking Skills, Research Ethics, Lab Safety and Research Poster Building Skills.

ASPIRE 2017: Bringing Students, Faculty, Industry, and Government Together March 31, 2017

The Annual Student Pipeline Industry Roundtable Event (ASPIRE) was held on Thursday, March 16, 2017 at Northeastern University, Boston. Each year, ASPIRE, which is hosted by ALERT (Awareness and Localization of Explosives-Related Threats) and Gordon-CenSSIS (The Bernard M. Gordon Center for Subsurface Sensing and Imaging Systems), brings together members of the academic, industrial, and government communities to engage in dialogue, and provides networking opportunities for ALERT and Gordon-CenSSIS students looking for internships, co-op opportunities, and employment.

Participants at ASPIRE 2017 included industry representatives from American Science and Engineering/Rapiscan Systems, Analog Devices, Hamamatsu Photonics, HXI, and Morpho Detection; government representatives from the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the Transportation Security Laboratory (TSL); and ALERT-affiliated graduate students from Boston University, Duke University, Northeastern University, Purdue University, Texas Tech University, and University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez.

The event started off in the early afternoon with welcoming remarks from Dr. Carey Rappaport (ALERT Deputy Director, ALERT Research Thrust Leader for R3 Bulk Sensors and Sensor Systems, and Electrical and Computer Engineering professor at Northeastern University), followed by industry and government introductions delivered by Emel Bulat (ALERT Senior Consultant for Corporate and Government Partnerships). Afterward, industry and government members gave 8-minute presentations on their organizations, research needs, and job openings. In the late afternoon, Dr. Hanumant Singh (Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Mechanical and Industrial Engineering professor at Northeastern University) delivered the keynote talk: “Autonomous Surface Vessels: High Resolution Mapping for Change Detection Spatially and Temporally.” This was followed by two separate roundtable networking sessions, in which representatives from industry and government met one-on-one with students, as well as with each other.

On the morning of the event, ALERT was pleased to welcome Brian Dolph of the U.S. Coast Guard and Chris Mocella of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to the laboratories of ALERT researchers, Dr. Octavia Camps, Dr. Jose-Martinez-Lorenzo, Dr. Carey Rappaport, and Dr. Matteo Rinaldi in order to showcase their research and its relevance to the Homeland Security Enterprise.

Faculty Spotlight: Joel Greenberg March 31, 2017

Dr. Joel Greenberg, an Assistant Research Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Duke University, is one of the newest ALERT researchers. He is leading Project R1-C.3, “Characterizing, Modeling, and Mitigating Texturing in X-Ray Diffraction Tomography,” a newly funded research project that kicked off in January, 2017. His research lab is made up of one Ph.D. student, two master’s students, and two undergraduates.

Dr. Greenberg’s background is in multiple fields, as he received his bachelor’s degree in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering along with a certificate in Physics at Princeton University in 2005.  He then received his A.M. and Ph.D. in Physics, as well as a graduate certificate in Photonics, from Duke University in 2012.  When asked how he became interested in homeland security related research, he states, “After my Ph.D., I was the technical and project manager for the DHS Science and Technology Coded Aperture X-ray Imaging (CAXI) program, which was tasked with studying how new advances in hardware and software, and algorithms could impact and improve the detection of contraband in luggage. Since that time, I have had the privilege of becoming even more involved in the world of security-related technology development, which contains a fascinating intersection of academia, government, and industry.”

Concerning major research questions in the field, Dr. Greenberg is very interested in addressing the limits of X-ray based explosives sensing. He is passionate about responding to real-world problems, and states that, “Because there is a cost and benefit to every measurement made, performing sensing in an optimal way requires an understanding of the underlying physics, available technologies, and algorithmic approaches. Getting the most useful information out of a set of measurements is key in the current data-deluged world of today.”

Dr. Greenberg is involved in numerous projects beyond his work with ALERT.  His work with the Department of Homeland Security involves research testing next-generation X-ray diffraction tomography scanners and information theoretic analyses of X-ray-based detection systems. He is also working with radiologists and physicians at Duke University to develop devices based on X-ray diffraction that can aid in cancer detection research.

ALERT Research Highlights March 31, 2017

March 31, 2017

ALERT Thrust R3 Project Investigators, Dr. Carey Rappaport and Dr. Jose Martinez-Lorenzo of Northeastern University were awarded a patent for “Signal Processing Methods and Systems for Explosives Detection and Identification Using Electromagnetic Radiation” (U.S. Patent 9,575,045) on February 21, 2017. This patent is for an algorithm designed to rule out non-explosive concealed foreign objects concealed under clothing and affixed to the skin, reducing the number of false alarms, and thus, the number of pat-downs needed, leading to greater accuracy in threat detection and shorter security lines. The improved reliability would benefit many: passengers, airlines, and the Transportation Security Administration; and possibly lead to the expansion of AIT Millimeter Wave Scanners into everyday use, such as railway stations, sporting venues, and other soft targets. Read more about their research here.

Dr. Rappaport was recently selected by the IEEE Antennas and Propagation Society (AP-S) as a Distinguished Lecturer for 2017-2019. The IEEE AP-S Distinguished Lecturer Program sends experts, the Distinguished Lecturers, to visit active AP-S Chapters around the world and give talks on topics of interest and importance to the Antennas and Propagation community. Read more here.

Dr. Martinez-Lorenzo was recently awarded a $500K National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award for his work on developing a method for “4D mm-Wave Compressive Sensing and Imaging at One Thousand Volumetric Frames per Second.” Millimeter-wave sensing and imaging systems are generally used for a wide range of applications, such as security monitoring to detect potential threats at the airport and biological imaging for wound diagnosis and healing. Because this is the first four-dimensional millimeter-wave imaging system that can operate in quick-changing scenarios, it will benefit society greatly. Read more about how Dr. Martinez plans to use this award here.

ALERT Thrust R2 Project Investigator, Dr. Steve Beaudoin of Purdue University was recently awarded “Best Presentation” in his session for a paper he presented on at the Annual AlChE Meeting in November 2016. The paper was based on his research project that was recently selected as a new ALERT project. The new project, titled “A Novel Method for Evaluating the Adhesion of Explosives Residue,” aims to provide insight into the reasons why explosives residues stick to surfaces and what must be done to effectively detect those residues in air transportation security environments. Read more about Dr. Beaudoin’s research here.

Prof. Rappaport and Prof. Martinez-Lorenzo Present ALERT Research at EuCAP 2017 March 24, 2017

Dr. Carey Rappaport and Dr. Jose Martinez-Lorenzo of Northeastern University presented ALERT-related research at the 11th European Conference on Antennas and Propagation (EuCAP 2017) in Paris, France this week (March, 19-24, 2017). EuCAP 2017 is organized by the European Association on Antennas and Propagation (EurAAP), and since 2006, this major event has been bringing experts from academia, research centers, and industry together.

Dr. Rappaport presented a paper entitled, “Modeling the Response of Dielectric Slabs on Ground Planes Using CW Focused Millimeter Waves,” which he co-authored with researcher, Dr. Ann Morgenthaler, and ALERT students, Mahdiar Sadeghi and Elizabeth Wig. In this paper, the researchers present a novel non-iterative model based on ray analysis to characterize non-metallic, weak dielectric objects (like threat objects) on the surface of a highly conducting background (like the human body) using a focused continuous millimeter-wave sensor.

Dr. Martinez-Lorenzo presented a paper entitled, “High Capacity Imaging Using an Array of Compressive Reflector Antennas,” which he co-authored with ALERT students, Ali Molaei and Galia Ghazi, and researchers, Dr. Hipolito Gomez-Sousa and Dr. Juan Heredia-Juesas. In this paper, the authors propose to use an array of six compressive reflector antennas (CRAs), in order to be able to image an extended human-size region. A CRA is created by distorting the surface of a traditional parabolic reflector antenna. As a result of using CRAs, pseudo-random spatial codes are created at the imaging region. Because these spatial codes increase the information collected by each measurement, a smaller number of measurements are needed, which translates into less imaging time. Additionally, the electromagnetic cross-coupling between adjacent CRAs is used to enhance the sensing capacity of the system, as well as to extend the region that it can image. Current security checkpoints use a pause and pose sensing approach for passengers, and require divestment and recollection of passengers’ possessions. This results in a slow throughput in the overall system, and long lines at security check-points. In the presented work, the researchers have developed a fast, fully electronic system that will not require a pause and pose approach, resulting in quick and accurate screening of passengers and their belongings.

Professor Steve Beaudoin Awarded “Best Presentation” for ALERT Research at Annual AIChe Meeting March 6, 2017

ALERT researcher, Professor Steve Beaudoin of Purdue University was awarded “Best Presentation” in his session for a paper he presented on at the Annual AlChE Meeting in November 2016. The paper was based on his research project that was recently selected as a new ALERT project. The new project, titled “A Novel Method for Evaluating the Adhesion of Explosives Residue,” aims to provide insight into the reasons why explosives residues stick to surfaces and what must be done to effectively detect those residues in air transportation security environments.

The ultimate outcomes of this project include a library documenting the adhesion characteristics of explosives residues of interest against surfaces of interest, coupled with a spreadsheet that will allow members of the community to calculate adhesion forces between explosives and surfaces of interest. The end-users of the information developed by this project will include members of the Homeland Security community who are engaged with developing apparatuses, materials (swabs), and methods for contact sampling.  Specifically, this research will help them to interpret the results of their developmental work and to guide the creation of next-generation materials and methods for detecting explosives residues.

Professor Beaudoin will be presenting the outcomes of this research thus far at the annual Trace Explosives Detection (TED) Workshop in April, 2017.  This presentation will include all of the data collected, as well as a tutorial that illustrates how members of the Homeland Security community can use the data to calculate adhesion forces.

Professor Jose Martinez-Lorenzo Awarded $500K NSF CAREER Award March 6, 2017

ALERT Thrust R3 Project Investigator, Professor Jose Martinez-Lorenzo of Northeastern University was recently awarded a $500K National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award for his work on developing a method for “4D mm-Wave Compressive Sensing and Imaging at One Thousand Volumetric Frames per Second.” Millimeter-wave sensing and imaging systems are generally used for a wide range of applications, such as security monitoring to detect potential threats at the airport and biological imaging for wound diagnosis and healing. Because this is the first four-dimensional millimeter-wave imaging system that can operate in quick-changing scenarios, it will benefit society greatly.

One of the main applications of this system is finding security threats hidden under clothing, inside backpacks, or in public spaces, such as sports arenas. The system can scan multiple people within 26 cubic meters and produce 1000 3D image frames per second. This far surpasses existing millimeter-wave sensing and imaging systems.

Despite the efficiency of this system, there are still some challenges to overcome. This project will look to address these challenges and ideally, the results of this research will establish the scientific basis for the proposed new sensing and imaging systems, by enhancing the imaging performance, reliability, and efficiency while reducing the hardware complexity, overall cost, and energy consumption of the system.

Additionally, Professor Martinez-Lorenzo will develop an educational program that combines classroom learning with research training methods to help students understand the principles and limitations of wave-based imaging. This educational program will also collaborate with the Northeastern University Cooperative Education and Career Development Program to transition students into industry and the Northeastern University Center for STEM Education to provide valuable research experiences for K-12, undergraduate, and underrepresented students, as well as education through online materials and public venues.

ALERT’s Methods to Improve the Detection of Hidden Explosives Wins Patent March 3, 2017

ALERT researchers, Prof. Carey Rappaport and Prof. Jose Martinez-Lorenzo of Northeastern University were awarded a patent for “Signal Processing Methods and Systems for Explosives Detection and Identification Using Electromagnetic Radiation” (U.S. Patent 9,575,045) on February 21, 2017.

This patent is for an algorithm designed to rule out non-explosive concealed foreign objects affixed to the skin (i.e. hidden under clothing). Current security screening systems, such as AIT Millimeter Wave Scanners used at airports to scan passengers, are able to identify items with distinct shapes that are hidden on the body, such as guns and knives. However, explosives are considerably more difficult to identify in this manner, due to the fact that the size and shape of explosives can vary greatly, leading to time-consuming and potentially dangerous security pat-downs to determine if a suspicious object is a security threat, or a wallet that a passenger forgot to place in the bin.

Prof. Rappaport and Prof. Martinez-Lorenzo believe their algorithm, when plugged into existing screening systems, will greatly reduce the number of false alarms, and thus, the number of pat-downs needed, leading to greater accuracy in threat detection and shorter security lines. The improved reliability would benefit many: passengers, airlines, and the Transportation Security Administration; and possibly lead to the expansion of AIT Millimeter Wave Scanners into everyday use, such as railway stations, sporting venues, and other soft targets.

Image caption: Simulation of a human form with explosives slab affixed to chest.