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Innovation Fast Track

Watch the Latest ALERT 101 January 30, 2015

ALERT is proud to present the third installment of ALERT 101. This chapter’s topic focuses on Methods of Chemical Characterization and Mitigation, and is part 1 of a 2 part series. ALERT Thrust Leaders Jimmie Oxley (Thrust 1) and Steve Beaudoin (Thrust 2) provide commentary about the crucial role of chemical characterization in the mitigation of explosives-related threats, and how ALERT research is helping first responders and security personnel to detect and eliminate threats before they can be used for malicious reasons.

Chemical characterization for the purpose of explosives detection requires ALERT researchers to classify what are explosive materials, and what are not. In the lab, researchers observe how chemicals uniquely react to stimuli, thus determining their chemical properties. For example, Differential Scanning Calorimetry subjects the chemical samples to heat, thus producing a specific reaction that can then be compared to the Explosives Database managed by the University of Rhode Island to determine if the chemical is a volatile substance.

Researchers then leverage these chemical characterizations to develop sensors that detect explosive threats. Trace analysis techniques are used to sense when chemical residues are present on surfaces of or in the air around materials by picking up small quantities of the chemicals when they are in the solid or vapor phases. One such trace method uses a polymer swab developed by Prof. Beaudoin, to sense chemicals in the solid phase on an object’s surface. This swab has individual fingers, similar in design to a toothbrush, with chemical head groups attached to the ends that attract and hold the residue to the finger. ALERT continues to advance the state-of-the-art in both solid and vapor trace technologies through their recently established Trace Explosives Sampling for Security Applications (TESSA) workshops.

As a supplement to this installment, stay tuned for ALERT 101: Basic Properties of Atoms and Molecules, coming this spring!

Inspired by the success of TED (www.ted.com) and other educational media forums, ALERT has developed the ALERT 101 video series. Each video short features different technologies and research areas that the ALERT Center engages in. We hope that these productions help educate and inform the global community on these topics in an accessible and enjoyable way.

Michael B. Silevitch and Simon Pitts awarded 2015 Gordon Prize January 9, 2015

ALERT Center Director, Michael B. Silevitch and Gordon Engineering Leadership Director, Simon Pitts have been awarded the 2015 Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Engineering Education by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). Prof. Silevitch, who is the founding director of the Gordon Engineering Leadership Program (GEL) at Northeastern University, is recognized alongside Simon Pitts “for developing an innovative method to provide graduate engineers with the necessary personal skills to become effective engineering leaders.”

The GEL Program is a graduate curriculum offered through NEU’s College of Engineering, with the mission of creating an elite cadre of engineering leaders “who stand out from their peers in their ability to invent, innovate, and implement engineering projects from concept to market success.” Each year, a select number of Candidates pursue the program, which is based in “three-way mentorship.” Students are assigned to one mentor from the program, one from an industry partner, and another mentor who has expertise in each student’s field of interest.

Prof. Silevitch created, acted as its initial director, and is now a lead mentor for the students participating in the GEL program. When asked what receiving the Gordon Prize means for GEL, he explains:

“It’s a validation of the importance of developing a program for engineering leadership that will help our country maintain its international competiveness, in terms of technological innovation.”

The Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education was initiated in 2001 by NAE with the intent of recognizing new modalities and experiments in education that develop the next generation of effective engineering leaders. The Gordon Prize focuses on education innovations including “curricular design, teaching methods, and technology enabling learning that strengthens students’ capabilities and desire to grow into leadership roles.” This prestigious prize is one of 5 NAE annual awards established to “recognize leaders in engineering for their lifetime dedication to their field and their commitment to advancing the human condition and to bring better understanding of the importance of engineering and engineering education to society”.

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ALERT Phase 2 Year 1 Annual Report Available Online! October 24, 2014

ALERT is proud to announce that the Phase 2 Year 1 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; and 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 1 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 1 Highlights, Infrastructure and Evaluation, and Industrial/Practitioner and Government Partnerships can also be accessed in the Annual Report.

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Britain’s Home Secretary Theresa May Visits ALERT September 17, 2014

On Monday, September 15th, Northeastern University and the ALERT COE hosted a visit from Britain’s Home Secretary, The Right Honorable Theresa May. May began her visit with a tour of two ALERT labs on Northeastern University’s campus: The Robust Systems Lab, where Prof. Octavia Camps, Prof. Mario Sznaier, and their students demonstrated ALERT’s Video Analytics Security Technology, and the Advanced Imaging Technology Lab, where Prof. Carey Rappaport, Prof. Jose Martinez-Lorenzo, and their students demonstrated ALERT’s Whole Body Imaging research.

Following her tour of ALERT’s labs, May met with Northeastern University’s President, Joseph Aoun, ALERT Director, Michael Silevitch, as well as other Northeastern officials and ALERT researchers, before serving as the keynote speaker during a panel discussion at Northeastern, which focused on combating human trafficking and modern slavery. To learn more about her visit, you can visit the Northeastern University webpage by following the “Read More” link below.

PHOTO: Pro­fessor Carey Rap­pa­port, the ALERT Center’s deputy director, describes the center’s research projects to Britain’s Home Sec­re­tary Theresa May during a tour on Monday. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

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Welcome ALERT Summer REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) Participants! June 2, 2014

ALERT is excited to welcome our Summer 2014 REU Participants, as the program has officially starts June 2nd, 2014. Five ALERT REU participants will be working at Northeastern University this summer with Prof. Carey Rappaport, Prof. Jose Martinez, and Mr. Richard Moore. One student will be working at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez with Prof. Samuel Hernandez. Participants are not only involved in ALERT research, but take part in educational and professional development activities, including giving a final research presentation at the end of the summer.

Welcome, ALERT REUs!

[Photo (l-r): Prof. Jose Martinez, REU Students: Yeehin Li (NU) and Mohit Bhardwaj (NU) and Abeco Rwakabuba (MCC ’14).]

ALERT and Gordon-CenSSIS Hosts the 3rd ASPIRE to promote Student and Industry Networking April 18, 2014

The 3rd ASPIRE (Annual Student Pipeline to Industry Roundtable Event), hosted by ALERT and Gordon-CenSSIS, was held on April 16th, 2014. Soon-to-be-graduating students were given the opportunity to present their research work and career goals to our ALERT and Gordon-CenSSIS Industrial Advisory Board (IAB) members. Six graduate students presented, one from Boston University (an ALERT partner institution), and five from Northeastern University.

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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VAST program featured on fedscoop.com February 14, 2014

ALERT’s VAST program which resulted from a partnership with the TSA and CLE airport is discussed in an article featured on fedscoop.com in “Researchers solve major security problem for airports”.
The VAST effort is addressing the needs of the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) to monitor and intercept threats by individuals to airport security. ALERT, the TSA Ohio Senior Federal Security Director, and the Commissioner of Cleveland Hopkins International Airport collaborated with ALERT researchers, Siemens Corporate Research and TSA practitioners in 2011 to develop and deploy “in-the-exit” and “tag-and-track” solutions at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.
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ALERT Phase 2 is Launched! November 18, 2013

On Tuesday, October 22, ALERT hosted representatives from the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate for a ceremony to launch its second phase of funding. In ALERT’s next 5 years, Northeastern University takes the lead, strategically partnered with Boston University, Purdue University and the University of Rhode Island to carry out its mission to develop effective response to explosives-related threats.

Representing Northeastern University, Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs, Stephen Director started out the ceremony expressing his happiness to continue the relationships with the core partner universities and welcomes working with new partners like Purdue University. He mentioned that the work done at ALERT which is translational and used directly in the field, exists in Pasteur’s Quadrant – it seeks to understand fundamental science while also being beneficial to society. He then handed off the microphone to Department of Homeland Security Deputy Under Secretary for Science and Technology, Daniel Gerstein.

Gerstein recognized ALERT Director, Michael Silevitch and ALERT Phase 1 Co-Director Jimmie Oxley for their award, stating that another 5 years of funding was validation for the work that has gone on at the Center. He noted that ALERT is a consortium that creates innovation through basic research and is constantly trying to work together to fix today’s problems. Gerstein was followed up by Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate Office of University Programs Director, Matt Clark, who asked that the universities keep supporting ALERT, highlighting that it’s the partnerships that actually make a change.

Statements by the officials were followed up by brief comments by leadership of each of the core universities who all stated their optimistic vision for the next 5 years. Representatives included University of Rhode Island Vice President for Research and Economic Development, Gerald Sonnenfeld, Boston University Vice President and Associate Provost for Research, Gloria Waters, and a letter sent by Purdue University Vice President for Research, Richard Buckius.

The ALERT team looks forward to the new partnership and another successful 5 years as a Center of Excellence. ALERT’s next phase will also include partnering with other Department of Homeland Security Centers of Excellence as it works to carry out its mission.

Fall 2013 ASPIRE – Nov. 19th November 8, 2013

The Fall 2013 ASPIRE (Annual Student Pipeline Industry Roundtable Event) will be held on Tuesday, November 19th at Northeastern University in the Ballroom in the Curry Student Center. ASPIRE is hosted by The Bernard M. Gordon Center for Subsurface Sensing and Imaging Systems (Gordon-CenSSIS) and the ALERT(Awareness and Localization of Explosives-Related Threats) Center of Excellence.  ASPIRE provides an optimum setting for dialog among members of the academic, industrial and government communities and is intended to provide networking opportunities for ALERT and Gordon-CenSSIS students looking for internships, co-op opportunities and full-time jobs. 

THIS EVENT REQUIRES REGISTRATION.
If you are interested in attending or would like further information about ASPIRE or Gordon-CenSSIS, please email Melanie Smith at m.smith@neu.edu.

The topic for this November’s event will be “Graduating STEM Students or the Lack Thereof.”  In the coming decade, many Baby Boomers will retire leaving industry scrambling to replace technical expertise in the US workforce. We would like to discuss this crisis and jointly consider possible solutions.

Three Panel Discussions
With this in mind, we will host three panel discussions led by faculty moderators to obtain the perspectives of the following key stakeholder groups:

  • Industry
  • Graduate Students
  • K-14 Pre-College Community

Industrial Members Posters
Following the panel discussions, our ALERT Industrial members will be presenting posters during a networking session focused on their upcoming human resource needs, future product or company development plans and exciting employment opportunities within their companies.

Key topics for discussion will include:

Why are large numbers of Americans not continuing their quest for higher education in STEM fields?

– Cost of education?
– Career Earnings & Compensation packages?
– Competing professions where compensation/reward vs education level is more attractive?

What issues do International students face during their education and upon graduation that make it difficult to use their degrees in the US?

What are the needs of our member companies in terms of workforce development and what educational or recruitment efforts can help with these needs?

How can Industry and Academia work together to attract talented students into STEM fields and provide them with viable career opportunities?