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Innovation Fast Track

The Associated Press features ALERT Researcher Otto Gregory’s work February 17, 2016

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (AP) — A University of Rhode Island professor has developed a sensor that detects the kind of explosive used in the Paris bombings, to try to stop future attacks.

Professor Otto Gregory compares his sensor to a dog’s nose, the gold standard in explosives detection. It “sniffs” the air for vapors emitted from explosives.

Photo Description: In this Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016 photo University of Rhode Island engineering professor Otto Gregory, right, is reflected in a silicon wafer, center, that contains sensors to detect explosives, in front of a thin film surface analyzer, behind, in a laboratory on the school’s campus, in South Kingstown, R.I. He has developed a sensor that detects the explosive used in the Paris bombings, to try to stop future attacks. Gregory compares his sensor to a dog’s nose, the gold standard in explosives detection. It “sniffs” the air for vapors emitted from explosives. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

 

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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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ADSA13 Presentations Now Available December 17, 2015

We are pleased to announce that the ADSA13 Workshop presentations are now available for download. View all slides, as well as the reports from past ADSA workshops at:

If you have any questions regarding the topics and technologies discussed at the workshop, please contact Carl Crawford at crawford.carl@csuptwo.com.

ALERT researchers work to develop robust Canine Training Aids December 16, 2015

Because of their volatility, explosives are rarely used pure, they are often mixed with other materials such as polymers. Explosives are exposed to polymers for a variety of reason: (1) when they are “plasticized” for shaping; (2) when they are encased for safe handling, (e.g. dog training aids); and (3) when they are collected for forensic evidence or storage. ALERT has focused on finding the best materials for developing devices such as these.

As a result of our study of polymer/HME interactions, ALERT researchers have developed a method of polymer encapsulation that is used to create safe trace explosive sources for canine and instrument training. Polycarbonate microspheres containing only a low percentage of TATP have been demonstrated to last for years, yet produce pure TATP vapor when heated at the designated program rate. This approach provides canine handlers and instrument vendors with safe access to stored hazardous explosives at trace levels for use in detection, calibration, and validation of instruments as well and the training of explosives detecting canines.

ALERT has received enthusiastic support from law enforcement and instrument vendors and are in negotiation for possible licensing with a commercial vendor. In the near term, law enforcement agencies and instrument vendors are able to request these training aids directly from ALERT.

Oxley said “Some of our biggest service clients are law enforcement agencies. When some of the improvised devices came into vogue, they were too sensitive for law enforcement agencies to handle.” Oxley explained that for the Popular Science crew, her team not only conducted a demonstration, but ran a test to determine if the dogs detect pseudo explosives as they do the real explosives.

“It worked and we were really excited, because this was a first-time run during which the dogs were testing both,” said the chemistry professor and co-coordinator of the URI Forensic Science Partnership. “We wanted to make sure they could associate one with the other; that was an extremely important task.

“With K-9s, we are looking at the odor signature, and we have to do that on an explosive-by-explosive basis,” she said.She added that Metropolitan Transit Authority police took advantage of training opportunities at URI long before other groups, but more and more agencies are seeking training, including the federal Transportation Security Administration, which has rotated dozens of agents through the URI campus this summer.

Photo caption: Sgt. Bill Finucane of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police Department in New York works with McCarney, one of the department’s dogs, while testing canine explosive training aids developed by URI’s Jimmie Oxley and her team.

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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ADSA12 Final Report Now Available October 19, 2015

We are pleased to announce that the ADSA12 Workshop Final Report is now available for download at the following link:

ADSA12 Final Report – Personnel and Divested Items Screening at the Checkpoint

If you have any questions regarding the topics and technologies discussed at the workshop, please contact Carl Crawford at crawford.carl@csuptwo.com.

ALERT Phase 2 Year 2 Annual Report Available Online! September 29, 2015

ALERT is proud to announce that the Phase 2 Year 2 Annual Report is now available for download online. This report captures the progression of the research conducted in our 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. Detailed descriptions of the Year 2 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 2 Highlights, Infrastructure and Evaluation, and Industrial/Practitioner and Government Partnerships can also be accessed in the Annual Report.

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SciX 2015, Presented by FACSS, Preliminary Program is Now Available September 18, 2015

SciX is the annual meeting of the Federation of Analytical Chemistry and Spectroscopy Societies (FACSS). The conference represents the future of international scientific exchange in the fields of analytical sciences – comprehensive, intimate, all inclusive.  This is the meeting where all the member societies of FACSS present their newest, most innovative research.

Preliminary Program is now available. For a list of the scheduled sessions, click “Sessions”

SciX 2015 will take place on September 27 – October 2, 2015 at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence, RI.

ABSTRACT SUBMISSION DEADLINE FOR POSTER PRESENTATIONS IS JULY 31. Submit Abstract

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ADSA12 Presentations Now Available June 10, 2015

We are pleased to announce that the ADSA12 Workshop presentations are now available for download at the following link:

https://myfiles.neu.edu/groups/ALERT/strategic_studies/ADSA12_Presentations/

If you have any questions regarding the topics and technologies discussed at the workshop, please contact Carl Crawford at crawford.carl@csuptwo.com.

ALERT leads Tutorial at IEEE Symposium on Technologies for Homeland Security April 16, 2015

ALERT led one of two tutorials given at the 2015 IEEE Symposium on Technologies for Homeland Security on April 14th, 2015. The tutorials launched a three day event which included a plenary talk by Dr. Reginald Brothers, the Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Science and Technology, and four research tracks focused on key homeland security topics:

  • Cyber Security,
  • Attack and Disaster Preparation, Recovery, and Response,
  • Land and Maritime Border Security
  • Biometrics & Forensics.

The tutorial provided an introduction to explosive threat sensing technologies to over 25 representatives from educational institutions, national labs, DHS, and members of the private security industry.

ALERT Director, Prof. Michael Silevitch began the session by providing an overview of ALERT’s mission, research areas, industrial partnerships, and current technology transition efforts.  After a brief Q&A, Jim Smith from the University of Rhode Island discussed how chemicals are classified as explosives and methods of trace detection. Dr. Smith presented what explosives tend to be found in improvised explosive devices and URI’s work in improving the detection of these types of materials. ALERT’s work in vapor detection, explosive residue detection, and canine explosive detection were all discussed.

For the second half of the tutorial, Prof. Octavia Camps presented techniques used within the video analytics domain to detect features, descriptors and invariants (fixed components) in video. She then discussed the process of inference used to classify video data. All of these components are in play in ALERT’s video analytic work. Octavia reviewed the VAST project, a collaboration with Siemens, the TSA and Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, by discussing the project’s contraflow (in-the-exit) and tracking in a crowded scene (tag and track) components. Prof. Camps also discussed ALERT’s partnership with VACCINE and the GCRTA to improve detection of known criminals within the rail system through video re-identification.

Carl Crawford closed the session with a presentation on X-ray based and millimeter wave detection technologies. After discussing the history of threats to air travel and current scanning processes, Dr. Crawford covered how false alarm rates are a substantial barrier to current technologies and what ALERT and its partners are doing to lessen its impact. ALERT technologies including detection diffraction systems, real time tomography systems, and active millimeter wave systems were presented by Dr. Crawford. ALERT’s work with third parties such as national labs, DHS security vendors and other academic intuitions to improve scanning rates and generate non-SSI research datasets were also highlighted.

The diverse audience engaged with center representatives regarding current ALERT partnerships, available research datasets, and in the field research projects. The tutorial included a productive discussion on the barriers of transitioning technology and opportunities for future collaborations in the tutorial’s domain. ALERT looks forward to continuing to support the Homeland Security Enterprise through events such as the IEEE Symposium.