News & Events
TESSA02 Workshop Announced July 1, 2015
ALERT is pleased to announce it will be hosting the Second “Trace Explosives Sampling for Security Applications” (TESSA02) Workshop, which will be held on August 5th, 2015 at Northeastern University in Boston, MA. The title of the workshop will be “Fundamentals and Advances in Trace Sampling and Detection.” The TESSA02 Workshop, held in 2014, was the first in the series to deal with the development of a roadmap for understanding contact sampling for trace explosives detection. The topic of contact sampling was chosen for the workshop in order to support the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) objective of improving the performance of existing technologies.
For more information, visit the TESSA02 Workshop event page here!
ALERT Research Featured in The New York Times July 1, 2015
ALERT “Tag-and-Track” video surveillance research was featured in a recent New York Times article, which discussed the video analytics project being led by Prof. Octavia Camps and Prof. Mario Sznaier at Northeastern University.
The software developed by Profs. Camps and Sznaier, along with their fellow researchers and students, uses airport security cameras to detect suspicious behavior by passengers. The article makes note of the high success rate and capabilities of the software, as it is currently in use at the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport to detect passengers who try to enter secure areas of the airport through an exit lane.Read More
ALERT Continues to Foster Collaboration at ADSA12 Workshop July 1, 2015
On May 12-13, 2015, the Twelfth Advanced Development for Security Applications Workshop (ADSA12) was held at Northeastern University in Boston, MA. The workshop focus was, “Screening of Personnel and Divested Items at the Checkpoint,” and was a continuation of the first workshop, ADSA01. The topic was chosen in order to support the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) objective of improving the performance of existing technologies and to improve the passenger experience at checkpoints. Another goal of the workshop was to support DHS’s objective to increase the participation of third parties, such as researchers from academia, national labs, and industry other than the incumbent vendors, in algorithm and system development for security applications.
The following topics were addressed at the workshop: emerging hardware; emerging algorithms and processes; improving the passenger experience and assessing and using risk. The topics were addressed from the perspectives of the TSA, airlines, and passengers.
The key findings from the workshop on what can be done to solve the checkpoint problems are: use of risk based screening including under-screening; improved concept of operations; integrating systems and data; setting standards for systems interfacing, data integration and testing in lab and field; developing better hardware and reconstruction software and identifying orthogonal technologies.
The next workshop, ADSA13, is scheduled for the fall of 2015, will be a continuation of ADSA12 and will concentrate on the following topics: trace and standoff detection; video analytics; application to mass transit and federal buildings; fusing orthogonal technologies; explosive threats; networking; laboratory and red-team testing; third party development of Automated Threat Recognition and reconstruction algorithms; machine learning; prevalence shifting; (trading off Probability of Detection for Probability of False Alarm); concept of operations; measuring and using risk; deterrence; and case studies.
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.”
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.”
ALERT Summer Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Begins July 1, 2015
This summer, ALERT is hosting 5 undergraduate students who are participating in the 10-week REU program. At Northeastern University, two students are working with Prof. Carey Rappaport, one student is working with Prof. Jose Martinez, and one student is working with John Beaty. ALERT is also hosting a student at the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez who is doing research with Prof. Samuel Hernandez.
The ALERT REU program is partnering with other REU programs in the College of Engineering to build a cohort of students who jointly attend professional development meetings and program activities. At the end of the summer each student will give a final presentation on their research project.
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.
Congratulations to our ALERT and Gordon-CenSSIS Scholars! April 22, 2015
This year, ALERT and Gordon-CenSSIS had the honor of hosting 17 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 8th, 2015, when they presented their final research presentations to their faculty advisors and other members of the Scholars community. The final presentations consisted of 2-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 Leadership Skills, Research Ethics, Lab Safety, Power Point Presentation Skills, and Research Poster Building Skills.
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 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.