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DHS COE News

DHS Funds Contact Sampling Task Order February 22, 2016

The ALERT Center of Excellence has been awarded a $1.2 million dollar task order contract from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for the creation of standardized procedures and methods to measure the efficiency and performance of contact sampling for trace explosives detection.

Contact sampling refers to the sampling, or “swabbing” of individuals, baggage, and cargo conducted by security personnel for the purpose of gathering trace explosives. Trace explosives are the non-visible, or “trace” amounts of particulates from materials used to make explosives. When properly detected, the presence of these particulates alert security personnel to potential explosives-related threats.

The task order, known as the Contact Sampling Task Order, came out of the Trace Explosives Sampling for Security Applications (TESSA) workshop series hosted by ALERT, and led by Professor Stephen Beaudoin of Purdue University. TESSA01 (August 2014) and TESSA02 (August 2015) brought together members of the trace explosives detection community in order to support the DHS objective of improving the performance of existing technologies within the security enterprise.

The trace explosives detection community relies heavily on contact sampling as a tool for aviation security and other non-aviation detection of explosives devices and identification of individuals who may have created or handled explosives. There is a desire within the community to unify current understanding of the mechanisms of contact sampling and to establish international standards for quantitative procedures and methods to measure surface sampling efficiency, baseline commercial off the shelf (COTS) systems and next generation sampling media.

This standardization will benefit the DHS Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate, Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and other federal, state, and local agencies tasked with detecting trace explosives, because it will help them identify the essential aspects of contact sampling that influence the effectiveness of their sampling protocols. The members of the trace explosives detection community will also benefit from this task order, as they will have access to a critical review of the state of the art technologies, materials, and protocols used in the contact sampling of explosives.

Photo caption: Low-resolution SEM image of freestanding micro-patterned traps used during contact sampling

DHS S&T hosts “The Nose Knows” Twitter Chat 12/17, 12pm December 17, 2015

Join the “The Nose Knows” Thursday December 17th at noon EST. Tune in and chat about improving canine explosives detection.

The Nose Knows: The Science of Threat Detection Canines

Did you know  dogs’ noses are a million times more sensitive than a human’s nose? Dogs can be trained to detect a wide variety of specific scents, such as drugs, fruits, and explosives and are trained to alert their handlers to the presence of these hazardous items by pawing, barking or, in the case of something dangerous, sitting or lying quietly.

Canines have been used by law enforcement agencies for decades to alert their handlers to threats or objects of interest. The Department of Homeland Security  (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) Canine Program is working with DHS partners, including the Transportation Security Administration, other federal agencies, and state and local first responders to provide independent verification of canine teams’ performance, as well as ways to enhance overall detection capability…

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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!!!

Naval Academy Midshipmen Participate in ALERT Research July 1, 2015

Annapolis Naval Academy Midshipmen, Andrew Kelly and Gabe Lackey, are spending a month this summer doing ALERT research at the University of Rhode Island (URI), in Kingston, RI. Andrew and Gabe are Systems Engineering majors and have elected to use this time to work with the URI Energetic Materials Research Group. Their work includes hands-on experience with a myriad of aspects of explosives research at both the laboratory scale and in the field. Projects include using various instruments for physical characterization of both military explosives and homemade/improvised energetic materials.

Midshipman Lackey (pictured, middle) has said of his experiences,

“It has been very interesting to see the ‘behind the scenes’ process that takes an idea and eventually lets it reach the front lines, helping sailors, marines, and all military men and women.”

Midshipman Kelly (pictured, far right) says of his experiences working with ALERT scientists at URI,

“Working alongside the graduate students under Dr. Oxley has been informative in linking the numerous research areas to future military application, as well as what is currently being used.”

COE students & industry partners network, make connections at 2015 ASPIRE April 10, 2015

Held on April 7, 2015, the fourth Annual Student Pipeline Industry Roundtable Event, otherwise known as ASPIRE, successfully brought together two of ALERT’s key components, industrial partners and students of all levels currently involved in center research, as a means of continuing to build strong collaborations and provide networking opportunities. This year’s ASPIRE took place at Northeastern University and included students from six academic partner institutions and representatives from nine industrial collaborators. The 2015 ASPIRE was also the first to feature representation from a government agency, the Transportation Security Laboratory (TSL).

Borne out of a more than fifteen-year-long tradition that ALERT and its predecessor, the Bernard M. Gordon Center for Subsurface Sensing and Imaging Systems, has of close collaboration with industry members, ASPIRE’s mission is for industrial partners to introduce their companies, products and needs to one another, to our faculty and to our diverse student population. ASPIRE aligns with the Center’s ongoing efforts to create robust partnerships within our industrial base, while also giving students the opportunity to network as they transition through academia and into the Homeland Security Enterprise.

The 2015 ASPIRE was once again curated by the Center Industrial and Government Liaison Officer, Emel Bulat. Center Director, Michael Silevitch was on-hand to launch the event and welcome the attendees. Industry members gave 8-minute presentations, followed by 2-minute presentations made by students.  ASPIRE was able to expand student participation this year through virtual presentations made by individuals that could not travel to Boston. In the afternoon, students, faculty and industry met face-to-face during a three-hour networking session. The session activities included poster presentations by students, 10-minute roundtable “get-to-know-you” discussions amongst attendees and a closing reception.

It is our hope that connections made at events, such as ASPIRE, will continue to foster alliances within the COE between students, faculty, government and industry. We expect that such collaborations will produce responses to market opportunities, including government solicitations such as Broad Agency Announcements and Request for Proposals, and eventually result in effective technology transfer.

RI Senator Jack Reed Visits ALERT at URI February 25, 2014

FROM URI NEWS, KINGSTON, RI – February, 25, 2014 — U.S. Sen. Jack Reed met Monday with University of Rhode Island professors from chemistry, engineering and cyber security to see firsthand some of the leading research they are conducting on explosives, explosives detection, and cyber security, and discuss efforts to strengthen URI’s role in physical and cyber security study.

During a campus tour yesterday with Gerald Sonnenfeld, URI vice president for research and economic development; Jimmie Oxley, URI professor of chemistry and director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence in Explosives, Detection, Mitigation, and Response at the University of Rhode Island; Otto Gregory, URI distinguished professor of engineering and co-director of the Sensors and Surface Technology Partnership; Lisa DiPippo, associate professor of computer science and the academic director of the Cyber Security Program at URI; Alan Davis of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport; and URI students, Reed observed demonstrations of some of the work URI is doing to improve security, detect explosives and neutralize their impact, and strengthen the nation’s cyber security capabilities.

[Photo Credit: URI Photos by Michael Salerno Photography.]

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Northeastern University Selected to Lead Renewed Explosives Research Center of Excellence August 14, 2013

DHS S&T Press Office – Press Release, August 14, 2012

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate announced today the selection of Northeastern University’s Center for Awareness and Location of Explosives-Related Threats (ALERT) to lead a renewed DHS Center of Excellence (COE) for Explosives Research.  S&T will provide ALERT with a $2.5 million grant for the first of five years.

“ALERT already has contributed substantially to the security of the United States through a top-notch explosives research and education program,” said Matthew Clark, Director of S&T’s Office of University Programs (OUP), which manages the COE system.  “ALERT meets DHS’s high standards for scientific quality, and demonstrates readiness and ability to engage with DHS to solve real-world security problems.”

S&T selected the Northeastern-led team through an open call for proposals and a rigorous competitive process, marking the second time Northeastern and its partners have won this distinction.  Under the leadership of Northeastern and the University of Rhode Island, the new ALERT COE will expand efforts initiated in 2008 by the existing Center.  The renewed ALERT will collaborate with DHS S&T, DHS operational components, industrial partners, and other COEs to help the United States detect and defeat explosives threats.  ALERT will also develop relevant educational curricula for both university students and mid-career professionals.

The DHS COEs were established by the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to be a “coordinated, university-based system to enhance the Nation’s homeland security.”  S&T’s COEs are a well-integrated network of researchers focused on specific high-priority DHS challenges and   work directly with DHS operational agencies to solve complex and difficult security problems.

For more information about OUP and the COEs, please visit www.dhs.gov/st-oup.

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ALERT and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) Receive $750,000 DARPA Award May 16, 2013

ALERT and Los Alamos National Laboratory have received a $750,000 DARPA award for their partnership in Nuclear Magnetic Quadrupole Resonance research. Their proposal was submitted and accepted for the Methods for Explosive Detection at Standoff (MEDS) program. This project will be led by Prof. Carey Rappaport, the Principal Investigator from Northeastern University, and partner lead, Michelle Espy, from LANL.

Follow-on Funding Awarded to Dr. Conrad Jones January 16, 2013

Dr. Conrad Jones, a faculty member at Southern University, was awarded $50,000 of follow-on funding through the DHS Summer Research Team Program for MSIs. Dr. Jones was originally chosen to participate in the program during the summer of 2012 to work on ALERT research with Profs. Louisa Hope-Weeks and Brandon Weeks at Texas Tech University.

At the end of the summer, faculty participants are encouraged to apply for up to $50,000 in follow-on funding to continue the research collaboration at their home academic institutions during the following academic year.

Congratulations Dr. Jones!!!

(Photo Source: http://www.orau.gov/dhseducation/index.html)

ALERT welcomes United States Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano November 19, 2012

Awareness and Localization of Explosives-Related Threats was pleased to host U.S. Sec­re­tary of Home­land Secu­rity, Janet Napoli­tano on Monday, November 12th following her keynote address at Northeastern University’s Veteran’s Day Ceremony.

To kick off the visit, ALERT’s Director, Professor Michael B. Silevitch, provided Secretary Napolitano with an overview of the ALERT Center of Excellence. Prof. Silevitch then introduced undergraduate and graduate students involved with ALERT research and gave a summary of the demonstrations in video analytics and advanced imaging technologies that were prepared for her briefing.  Michael described Napolitano’s visit as a significant opportunity for ALERT and its homeland security research, saying,

“It was very important to get validation from Secretary Napolitano about the relevance of our research and its transition to the field in the areas of video tracking of threats and passenger screening. This acknowledgement inspires us.”

Professor Octavia Camps led the first demonstration featuring ALERT’s Engage to Excel (E2E) Video Analytic Surveillance Transition project, VAST. VAST is a program developed in partnership with Siemens and the Cleveland Transportation Security Administration. The live demonstration exhibited the video analytic counter-flow program developed by Dr. Camps and her team and its ability to automatically detect when a person is proceeding the wrong way in an identified traffic pattern (for example, trying to enter through an exit). The resulting detections enable quick identification of an incident and minimize the impact on TSA resources.  This project is currently installed within the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.

Following the video analytics demonstration, Professor Carey Rappaport showed Secretary Napolitano the capabilities of the ALERT Advanced Imaging Technologies (AIT) laboratory.  This laboratory fuses together various scanning tools to create next-generation security scanning systems. Professor Rappaport, Assistant Professor Jose Martinez and graduate student Spiros Mantzavinos demonstrated the operation and data acquisition capabilities of ALERT’s advanced portal-based millimeter-wave imaging radar.  During the demo, the system scanned a mannequin wrapped in a skin simulant with various representative objects attached for detection. These types of AIT systems can be used to detect illicit items that passengers may be attempting to carry on their person.

“As a DHS-supported researcher, I found Secretary Napolitano’s visit very satisfying,” Prof. Rappaport commented.  “She was of course quite knowledgeable about the science and technology we are pursuing, but she seemed keenly interested in how we were improving the state of the art. She was completely supportive and she motivated the students with her passion to keeping Americans safe.”

Spiros Mantzavinos, currently a Northeastern University Doctoral Candidate in Electrical and Computer Engineering  and Gordon Engineering Leadership Fellow, had the opportunity to meet Secretary Napolitano.  Mantzavinos said, “It was an honor to host Secretary Napolitano for a visit to our ALERT whole-body imaging lab. Receiving attention and recognition from such a prominent figure in the national security arena assures the relevance of the advances we are making.”