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Awards and Achievements

ALERT Phase 2 Year 3 Annual Report Available Online! September 30, 2016

ALERT is proud to announce that the Phase 2 Year 3 Annual Report is now available for download online. This report details the continued research in ALERT’s four thrusts:

  • R1 Characterization & Elimination of Illicit Explosives
  • R2 Trace & Vapor Sensors
  • R3 Bulk Sensors & Sensor Systems
  • R4 Video Analytics & Signature Analysis

A full bibliography of publications and presentations conducted under ALERT support follows the individual project reports. Comprehensive descriptions of the Year 3 activities that took place in our Research and Transition, Education, Strategic Studies, Safety, and Information Protection Programs, as well as the ALERT Phase 2 Overview and Year 3 Highlights, Infrastructure and Evaluation, and Industrial/Practitioner and Government Partnerships can also be accessed in the Annual Report.

ALERT’s work in Improving Security Screening featured in IEEE Antennas & Propagation Magazine September 19, 2016

ALERT Bulk Sensors & Sensor Systems Thrust Leader Professor Carey Rappaport and ALERT Researcher Assistant Professor Jose Martinez Lorenzo’s article on Improving Security Screening: A Comparison of Multistatic Radar Configurations for Human Body Imaging was one of four featured articles in the August issue of IEEE Antennas & Propagation Magazine. The four articles in this issue focused on “various  concepts  that could enhance future imaging scenarios” and asks the question, “…is  it  possible  to  combine  all  of  these  ideas  into  a  next-generation  advanced  imaging  system  for  security  and  other  applications?”.

The article presents the use of a fully multistatic millimeter wave radar system. The radar can be used for imaging concealed objects on the human body at airport security checkpoints with increased speed and accuracy.

ALERT Featured in DHS Science & Technology Newsroom August 29, 2016

The ALERT Center of Excellence works closely with industry partners like Detectachem and first responders to develop technologies and algorithms to enhance the ability to eliminate illicit explosives.

This month, ALERT was featured in the DHS S&T’s Responder Newsroom highlighting its improvement of explosives training solutions for first responders. The feature showcases ALERT’s work with K-9 explosive detection training aids (TEAS).

Rapiscan receives DHS SAFETY Act Designation & Certification August 19, 2016

Congratulations to ALERT industry member Rapiscan on their DHS SAFETY Act Designation and Certification. The SAFETY Act is designed to promote the development and distribution of anti-terrorism technologies by providing liability protections for Sellers of “qualified anti-terrorism technologies.”

Rapiscan is the world’s leading security screening provider, delivering the highest level of threat detection compliance. The SAFETY Act has designated and certified their line of non-invasive metal detection systems that can be used to detect explosives. The technology also includes software that provides networked operations such as installation, integration, maintenance, training, a warranty, personnel qualifications, and all technical manuals.

Congratulations to our ALERT and Gordon-CenSSIS Scholars! April 29, 2016

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 20th, 2016, when they presented their final research presentations to their faculty advisors and other members of the Scholars community. The final presentations consisted of 3-minute overviews of each Scholar’s research project, addressing their project’s overall mission and activities, their specific contributions to the project, as well as what 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.

ALERT and CenSSIS Scholars 2016

2015-2016 Scholars [L-R], Top Row: James Dowd, Sule Sahin, Jennifer Silva, Peyton Perry, Sofia Catalina, Amanda Barbour, Kalina Yang, Matthew Greenlaw, Kevin Kimelman, Sarah Fayerweather; Bottom Row: Justin Xia, Aayush Parekh, Ryan Birke, Darya Malkova, August Howell.

The program also aims to provide Scholars with multiple resources for mentorship and guidance. In addition to their faculty advisor, the program coordinator, and the STEM Center team, each Scholar is assigned a specific Scholar Mentor, who regularly connects with them regarding program-related activities, as well as questions or concerns related to their overall experience at NU. Scholar Mentors are undergraduate engineering students who have previously completed the Scholars program, and who apply to participate in this supporting role. As part of their involvement this spring, the Mentors each gave a presentation to the Scholars on their research, outreach and co-op experiences.

All ALERT and Gordon-CenSSIS Scholars who successfully complete the program requirements receive an NU Bookstore Voucher of up to $1,000.

The program is hosted and sponsored by the Awareness and Localization of Explosives-Related Threats (ALERT) Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence, and the Bernard M. Gordon Center for Subsurface Sensing and Imaging Systems (Gordon-CenSSIS), a Graduated National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center.

ALERT Students Received Top Award at URI’s Internet of Things Hackathon November 30, 2015

On Friday, November 13th, 2015, students at the “Internet of Things Hackathon,” at URI were divided into teams, assigned a problem to solve with modern technologies, and given the rest of the weekend to compete for the top prize. Three students from ALERT were teamed up to develop an idea for a product that could locate radiation sources in real time and help determine the exact location of a biological weapon. The team, comprised of Anthony Bisulco, a sophomore at Northeastern University, Darby Hoss, a graduate student from Purdue University, and Amanda Figueroa, a senior from the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez, created a prototype of a system that determined the location of the radiation source based on measurements from remote, wearable sensors.

On Sunday, November 15th, the teams proposed their ideas to a panel of judges, which included representatives from Slater Technology Fund, the state Commerce Corporation, and URI faculty. The ALERT team received the Judges Award, the top award at the event, for their ability to develop a solution to a real-world problem, while also considering plans for production and intellectual property protection.  An article published in the Providence Journal (image above), highlighted the winning team, and described the event as “a bit like the TV show ‘Shark Tank’ where budding entrepreneurs pitch their inventions to a panel, and hope someone wants to invest.”
Congratulations, Amanda, Anthony, and Darby!!!

Logan Jackson, former ALERT REU, named Rhodes Scholar November 23, 2015

We at ALERT would like to congratulate our former REU Student and ALERT and Gordon-CenSSIS Scholar, Logan Jackson, on being named a Rhodes Scholar. This award is all the more meaningful as it is the first time that a Northeastern University student has received this prestigious scholarship.

Currently an Undergraduate in Civil Engineering at Northeastern, Logan is also the recipient of the 2015 Robert J. Shillman Award for Engineering Excellence. This award recognizes extraordinary academic achievement in the fields of engineering and computer science. Logan was one of four NEU rising seniors awarded this year and is celebrated for her drive, focus and dedication in continuing to demonstrate academic excellence.

In 2012, she conducted ALERT research as an REU student with ALERT Phase 1 researcher Mehrdad Sasani. Logan was also a 2012 ALERT and Gordon-CenSSIS Scholar and has mentored other scholars in the years since. She the current president of the Black Engineering Student Society and this year received the President’s Award.

Congratulations, Logan!

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Student Spotlight Interview with Mihindra Dunuwille July 1, 2015

Congratulations to Mihindra Dunuwille, a spring 2015 Chemistry Ph.D. graduate at Washington State University (WSU), who has recently started working as a postdoc at the University of Utah! During her time at WSU, Mihindra worked on ALERT research under the guidance of Prof. Choong-Shik Yoo. Her thesis, “Pressure-induced Physical and Chemical Changes of Non-conventional Energetic Materials: Nitrate, Perchlorate and Peroxide Chemistries at High Pressures and High Temperatures,” focused on discerning the chemical properties of non-conventional materials that are widely used in terrorist activities in the hopes of developing techniques to mitigate explosives-related threats.

In order to understand how these chemicals are altered to become explosive, Mihindra performed experiments to determine the effects of physical and thermal conditions (e.g. pressure and temperature) on chemical properties on three types of oxidizers: nitrate, perchlorate and peroxide.

When asked about her experience working on this project, Mihindra describes her enthusiasm for the breadth of information that she was able to acquire just by tuning the physical variables (e.g. pressure) of these chemicals.  Regarding the project’s overall mission, she states, “I’m passionate about how this can be used in real life applications, and that it can change people’s lives for the better.”

Mihindra has been drawn to physical chemistry since high school, and received her B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Colombo in Sri Lanka. She was originally introduced to Prof. Yoo’s research while at WSU on a prospective visit before accepting their offer to join the Ph.D. program in 2008. Of her experience working with Prof. Yoo, she remembers being encouraged to investigate the scientific basis of experimental observations on her own, instead of being handed the answers, and says, “It made me a better scientist.”

In her new role as a postdoc at the University of Utah, Mihindra has the opportunity to demonstrate her skills and experience from her previous project, while also getting the chance to explore new scientific techniques. Her current project, “Superconductivity of Lithium Rich Compounds,” will give her the chance to study the effects of high pressures and low temperatures on chemical properties, and will offer her the opportunity to get more experience with x-ray diffraction techniques. When asked about her career goals, she undoubtedly wants to continue doing research on explosives where she would like to have a positive impact on society, and would one day like to work for a national lab.

Mihindra’s enthusiasm for her work becomes quickly apparent when speaking with her, and is further reinforced by Prof. Yoo, who reflects, “She was smart, careful, responsible, and highly motivated both in her research and academic leadership roles… in short, she was an excellent graduate student with a high level of devotion and morale.”

Student Spotlight Interview with Yolanda Rodriguez-Vaqueiro April 30, 2015

Yolanda Rodriguez-Vaqueiro, an ALERT Research Assistant, and recent Ph.D. recipient in the Electrical Engineering Program at Northeastern University always knew that she was destined for a career in STEM. “From the very beginning, my brain was a mathematical one. Instead of a left and right brain, I have two left brains. For example, 2 + 2 = 4. There can only be one answer. For me, that is perfect,” stated Rodriguez-Vaqueiro.

During her four year involvement with ALERT, Rodriguez-Vaqueiro’s primary research focus involved “compressive sensing” for standoff detection of security threats using millimeter wave radar. During her ALERT research, Yolanda proposed a new geometrical configuration for a multiple-bistatic, millimeter wave radar imaging system, which could potentially be used for threat detection in outdoor environments.

Under the guidance of advisors Professor Jose Martinez Lorenzo and Professor Carey Rappaport, Rodriguez-Vaqueiro was given the freedom to test out new ideas, and come into her own as a researcher. According to Rodriguez-Vaqueiro, “My capacity to do research has improved significantly. I learned how to take an idea and apply it to the real world, by creating simulations and collecting data from measurements done in the lab. Both Professor Martinez and Professor Rappaport were excellent mentors. I was able to give them my very best work thanks to their guidance. They allowed me a great deal of independence to try new things on my own, while also pushing me to become a better researcher.”

When asked about highlights from her involvement with ALERT, Rodriguez-Vaqueiro stated, “Every time I publish a paper, it’s a huge milestone for me, because you finally have the opportunity to share the results of your research with the public. You may have been working on a project for a long time—six months, or a year, and then you get to write it all down, and make sure that the finished product is at a certain academic level to get published. It’s exciting.” During her time with ALERT, Rodriguez-Vaqueiro was a prolific writer of papers and proposals. She authored, and co-authored a total of fourteen publications (seven journal articles, and seven conference papers), of which she received Best Paper Award at the 2012 IEEE – Homeland Security Technology conference; the Best Propagation Paper Award at the 2014 European Conference on Antennas and Propagation; and most recently, the Burke/Yannas Bioengineering Best Paper Award, which recognizes original research studies in the field of bioengineering at the 47th Annual Meeting of the American Burn Association.

Rodriguez-Vaqueiro pointed out that research does not come without challenges however. She stated, “When you’re doing research, every project—every new day presents challenges. For example, every time we get data from the lab, it’s a challenge to decipher that data, and then take that data and turn it into an image for others to understand. I’m a person who enjoys challenges though.”

In addition to her busy role as an ALERT Research Assistant, and doctoral candidate, Rodriguez-Vaqueiro made time to mentor other students. During her time with ALERT, she mentored approximately fifteen undergraduate and high school students engaged in STEM related research. She especially enjoyed mentoring high school students through Young Scholars, a program operated by the Northeastern University Center for STEM Education. “It was very rewarding for me to assist high school students, because they had very little research experience, but were able to obtain meaningful results from scratch. They also learned some basics in coding. It was good for them, and for me.”

“Without a doubt,” claimed her adviser, Professor Jose Martinez Lorenzo, “she is one of the most talented students that I have ever had during my academic career […] She is the Ph.D. student that every faculty member desires in a research group: a student who set example of true leadership. I believe Yolanda will have an outstanding academic development, solving the most important and difficult engineering problems with her unique insight and quick mind.”

Rodriguez-Vaqueiro recently received her Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering. Her thesis was titled, “Compressive Sensing for Electromagnetic Imaging Using Nesterov-Based Algorithm.” She also recently received the ECE Research Impact Award at NEU and accepted a post-doctoral position at the University of Vigo in Pontevedra, Spain where she will continue doing research related to electro-magnetic engineering and security applications.

Borja Gonzalez and Prof. Carey Rappaport, win the Best Antenna Design and Application Paper Award at EuCAP 2015 April 29, 2015

Congratulations to our ALERT researchers, Borja Gonzalez (PostDoc) and Prof. Carey Rappaport, who won the Best Antenna Design and Application Paper Award at the EuCAP 2015 – the 9th European Conference on Antennas and Propagation. Their paper, “Multistatic Nearfield Imaging Radar for Portal Security Systems Using a High Gain Toroidal Reflector Antenna,” was presented by Prof. Rappaport at the conference, held this year in Lisbon, Portugal on April 12th – 17th. Selected from over 1,000+ papers presented throughout the conference, ALERT proudly congratulates Carey and Borja on this impressive achievement.