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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.

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!!!

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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Student Spotlight Interview with Michael Collins September 28, 2015

Congratulations to Michael Collins, who graduated from Northeastern University in August 2014 with his MS in Electrical and Computer Engineering, as he is preparing to complete his participation in the ALERT DHS HS-STEM (Homeland Security Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Career Development Program!

The Career Development Program (CDP) was established in 2011 with a grant to Northeastern University from the Department of Homeland Security, Science and Technology Directorate. In 2015 the program was expanded and renamed, and now awards fellowships to full-time students pursuing BS, MS or PhD degrees related to ALERT’s research. After completing their degree and other program requirements, graduates are required to obtain paid employment within the Homeland Security Enterprise for at least one year.

During his time at Northeastern, Michael worked with Prof. Carey Rappaport on a project focused on the feasibility of using Nuclear Quadrupole Resonance sensing for non-invasive detection of explosives hidden inside the body, in collaboration with Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Of his experience working with Prof. Rappaport, Michael says that, “having a great advisor makes all the difference in a research program. Professor Rappaport’s many insights and patient explanations taught me things that are hard to learn any other way.” As part of the CDP, Michael participated in a 10-week long internship with Los Alamos National Lab, and recalls the opportunity to visit New Mexico to collect data for his thesis as being one of the highlights of the program.

Now, Michael is working at the Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation (CMRE) a NATO organization located in La Spezia, Italy. He began his search for Homeland Security Enterprise positions after graduation in August, 2014, and received his offer to start at CMRE in October, 2014. Michael was initially drawn to the Centre’s research on autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) for port security, anti-submarine warfare, and mine detection. So far, he has worked on technology that improves underwater communication, performed acoustic modeling, and has participated in a naval exercise in Norway. Of his current role, Michael says, “I am now in charge of a project that reduces the risk faced by submariners. Like the research that I conducted at ALERT, it’s good to know that my current work makes people safer.”

When asked to reflect on his experience working with Michael, Prof. Rappaport describes him as “an incredibly hard worker: when he sets his sights on a goal, no matter how ambitious or distant, he will attain it through sheer force of will. It’s great to see him succeed in this high responsibility job.”

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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“The CT Meeting” Announced July 22, 2015

The 4th International Conference on Image Formation in X-Ray Computed Tomography (“The CT Meeting”) will be held July 18 – 22, 2016 in Bamberg, Germany. A call for participants and submissions has been issued by the organizing committee for this event which is “dedicated to basic problems related to X-ray CT.” Abstract Submissions by authors wishing to participate have a  deadline of January 18, 2016. Interested parties should visit http://www.ct-meeting.org to find more information about the event and submission process.

ALERT Collaborators, Carl Crawford and Harry Martz will be coordinating a session on Security CT Applications. Any ALERT researchers who are interested in participating, or have questions about this session should contact Carl Crawford at crawford.carl@csuptwo.com.

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.

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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.