The United States spends more money on potato chips than on research and devel­op­ment for new energy tech­nology, according to North­eastern Uni­ver­sity engi­neering pro­fessor Michael Silevitch.

Speaking at the 11th annual Research and Indus­trial Col­lab­o­ra­tion Con­fer­ence, held last week at North­eastern, Sile­vitch declared “we have to rethink our pri­or­i­ties or else we’ll become a nation of users rather than inno­va­tors of tech­nology. Other coun­tries are sur­passing us in terms of patents and the number of stu­dents in sci­ence, tech­nology, engi­neering and math.”

Sile­vitch, the Robert D. Black Pro­fessor of Elec­trical and Com­puter Engi­neering, is director of the Bernard M. Gordon Center for Sub­sur­face Sensing and Imaging Sys­tems (Gordon-​​CenSSIS) and codi­rector of the Center for Aware­ness & Local­iza­tion of Explosives-​​Related Threats (ALERT), which co-​​hosted the conference.

The day­long event brought together more than 300 people from acad­emia, industry and gov­ern­ment inter­ested in col­lab­o­rating on inno­v­a­tive sensing, imaging and detec­tion tech­nolo­gies with the goal of bringing research to reality — a goal that dove­tails with Northeastern’s focus on use-​​inspired research that solves global chal­lenges in health, secu­rity and sustainability.

The con­fer­ence fea­tured keynote addresses from pro­gram man­agers at the National Sci­ence Foun­da­tion, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­rity (DHS), and research pre­sen­ta­tions by pro­fes­sors from col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties around the country—including North­eastern, the Uni­ver­sity of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez, the Uni­ver­sity of Houston and the Uni­ver­sity of Hawaii.

After the pre­sen­ta­tions, experts in the home­land secu­rity, civil infra­struc­ture and bio­med­ical fields dis­cussed poten­tial appli­ca­tions of the research and bar­riers to suc­ceeding in the marketplace.

To suc­cess­fully bring research to reality, strong part­ner­ships between uni­ver­si­ties, indus­tries and gov­ern­ment are required,” said Dou­glas Bauer, the pro­gram exec­u­tive for basic research within the explo­sives divi­sion of the sci­ence and tech­nology direc­torate at DHS. “Our enter­prise is one of mutual problem def­i­n­i­tion, problem solu­tion and infra­struc­ture development.”

Bauer noted the impor­tance of meeting future home­land secu­rity chal­lenges by uti­lizing the unique capa­bil­i­ties of fed­er­ally des­ig­nated Cen­ters of Excel­lence such as Gordon-​​CenSSIS and ALERT.

He also pointed to a graduate-​​level col­lab­o­ra­tion in image pro­cessing between Depart­ment of Energy national labs and industry giants, such as Amer­ican Sci­ence and Engi­neering, Inc. The com­pany develops advanced X-​​ray inspec­tion sys­tems to combat ter­rorism and trade fraud.

In addi­tion to the ben­efit of the research output,” said Bauer, “the student’s con­nec­tion with a national lab­o­ra­tory has secured employment—a goal eluding too many Amer­i­cans in our trou­bled economy.”

Fol­lowing a pre­sen­ta­tion on detec­tion of poten­tial sui­cide bombers using wave radar, Richard Johnson, a lieu­tenant colonel in the Mass­a­chu­setts Army National Guard, summed up the impor­tance of bringing research to the field.

The real cus­tomer is the end user, espe­cially when you’re talking about safety,” said Johnson, who recently returned from Iraq. “To detect bombs at this kind of distance—we have nothing like that. If we can elim­i­nate the threat, or even buy time to make deci­sions, this is worth­while research.”

Co-​​led by North­eastern and the Uni­ver­sity of Rhode Island, ALERT is a Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­rity Center of Excel­lence that is con­ducting trans­for­ma­tional research and tech­nology devel­op­ment for effec­tive detec­tion, mit­i­ga­tion and response to the explo­sives related threats facing the nation.

Gordon-​​CenSSIS is a multi-​​university National Sci­ence Foun­da­tion Engi­neering Research Center. Its mis­sion is to rev­o­lu­tionize detec­tion of bio­med­ical and environmental-​​civil objects or con­di­tions that are under­ground, under­water or embedded within cells or inside the human body.