Grad­uate stu­dents con­ducting research at North­eastern University’s Aware­ness and Local­iza­tion of Explosives-​​Related Threats (ALERT) Center have won first place in the 2012 National Secu­rity Inno­va­tion Com­pe­ti­tion held last month at the Uni­ver­sity of Colorado—Colorado Springs. The vic­tory earned them a $10,000 prize.

Northeastern’s team con­sisted of Galia Ghazi, Spiros Mantza­vino, Luis Tirado, and Kathryn Williams. Carey Rap­pa­port — Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor of Elec­trical and Com­puter Engi­neering and deputy director of the ALERT Center—and José A. Martinez-Lorenzo—research assis­tant pro­fessor for ALERT—advised the team. Their project, enti­tled “Next Gen­er­a­tion Millimeter-​​Wave Body Imaging for Con­cealed Threat Detec­tion,” beat 39 other schools nation­wide for the top prize.

The com­pe­ti­tion aims to stim­u­late col­lege stu­dents’ interest in national secu­rity by exposing their university-​​sponsored projects to a broad audi­ence of industry, aca­d­emic and gov­ern­ment orga­ni­za­tions involved in aero­space, defense, secu­rity, and first-​​responder activities.

The stu­dents’ project, which is funded by the U.S. Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­rity through Northeastern’s ALERT Center, addresses lim­i­ta­tions that exist in cur­rent millimeter-​​wave scan­ning sys­tems, which pro­duce non­ion­izing radi­a­tion. X-​​ray backscatter sys­tems, on the other hand, pro­duce small doses of radiation.

The end result of the stu­dents’ research is a hard­ware and soft­ware pro­to­type system that pro­duces higher-​​resolution images that enable greater accu­racy for detecting con­cealed weapons, explo­sives or contraband.

Stu­dents said they would use the award to enable their system to per­form accu­rate whole-​​body imaging scans even faster.

More than 700 mil­lion air­plane pas­sen­gers are scanned in the United States each year, making tech­nology that pro­duces images of the highest quality and detects threats with the greatest accu­racy a top pri­ority for the DHS.

Retrieved human body 3D pro­file plotted over­laid onto the human body model for threat (left) and non-threat(right) cases. Cour­tesy photo.

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The com­pe­ti­tion was judged by a panel of seven judges from gov­ern­ment and industry that included rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­rity, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Com­bat­ting Ter­rorism Tech­nical Sup­port Office, Boeing Phantom Works, Pal­adin Cap­ital Group, Pop­ular Sci­ence mag­a­zine, and Dorsey & Whitney LLP.

ALERT is a Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­rity Center of Excel­lence founded in 2008. The DHS Sci­ence and Tech­nology Direc­torate man­ages the center, which seeks to pro­tect the nation from explosives-​​related threats through detec­tion, mit­i­ga­tion and response. ALERT is co-​​led by North­eastern Uni­ver­sity and the Uni­ver­sity of Rhode Island and is part­nered with many industry, aca­d­emic and strategic enti­ties, including cor­po­ra­tions, uni­ver­si­ties, and national labs.

The center is based on a cul­ture of col­lab­o­ra­tion among experts and researchers in sensing and imaging to create state-​​of-​​the-​​art tech­nology for explo­sives char­ac­ter­i­za­tion and radar sensor sys­tems. The Advanced Imaging Tech­nology Project at North­eastern began in fall 2010 and focuses on millimeter-​​wave and mul­ti­modality portal-​​based and standoff sys­tems for threat detec­tion. Northeastern’s ALERT Center spe­cial­izes in advanced sensor design, standoff weak-​​target detec­tion, signal pro­cessing, and sensor inte­gra­tion, explo­sives char­ac­ter­i­za­tion, impro­vised explo­sive device (IED) det­o­nator sig­na­tures, shock physics, and mate­rial science.