News & Events
ALERT Brings Together Stakeholders for Virtual Technology Showcase April 28, 2021
Like many events scheduled for 2020, the ALERT Technology Showcase had to be postponed due to the pandemic. As operations shifted online, ALERT leadership saw an opportunity to expand upon the ALERT Technology Showcase to better demonstrate the impact and transition of its research to the homeland security enterprise.
Leading up to the showcase, ALERT launched the SPARC (Seminars to Promote ALERT Research and Collaboration) webinar series—giving attendees a preview and deep-dive into some of the Center’s technology solutions—and shifted the ALERT Technology Showcase, which is typically held in person, to a fully virtual format. The newly imagined two-day event was successfully held on April 21 – 22 and brought together 137 stakeholders from across academia, industry, and government for presentations, demonstrations, and panel discussions that highlighted ALERT’s many research accomplishments, technologies, and collaborations.
“Shifting to the virtual format was a difficult challenge,” said Michael Silevitch, ALERT Director. “I want to commend the effort of the entire ALERT team to accomplish this important task. Their efforts went above and beyond the normal preparation for this type of event.”
The keynote address on the first day of the showcase was delivered by LaFonda Sutton-Burke, the Port Director for Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) at Los Angeles International Airport, who presented at ALERT’s inaugural CBP-ADEPT Workshop in 2018. On the second day, the keynote address was provided by Rebecca Medina, Director of the Office of University Programs at the Department of Homeland Security.
Over the course of the ALERT Technology Showcase, attendees observed nine technology demos, including:
- Simulated Air Cargo Skids Task Order – Presented by Carl Crawford, Csuptwo LLC.
- CLASP (Correlating Luggage and Specific Passengers) – Presented by Deanna Beirne, Northeastern University; David Castañón, Boston University; Octavia Camps, Northeastern University; Henry Medeiros, Marquette University; and Rich Radke, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
- Autonomous Raman System for the Analysis of Trace Residues on Surfaces – Presented by Eric Miller, Tufts University; and Romain Blanchard, Pendar Technologies.
- UAV-Based Sensors for the Detection of Threats – Presented by Otto Gregory, University of Rhode Island.
- Tool and Method for Simulating Explosives Particle Adhesion – Presented by Steve Beaudoin, Purdue University
- Distributed, Low-Cost Multi-Sensor Detection, Imaging and Analysis Network – Presented by Scott Howard, University of Notre Dame
- Astrophysics Multi-View CT – Presented by David Castañón, Boston University; and Brett Tally, Astrophysics Inc.
- Zero Power Infrared Wireless Sensor Node in Collaboration with United Technology Corporation (UTC) – Presented by Matteo Rinaldi, Northeastern University; Zhenyun Qian, Northeastern University; and Sungho (Ryan) Kang, Northeastern University.
- SCHMOO (Safe Control of Hazardous Materials or Others Onsite) – Presented by Jimmie Oxley, University of Rhode Island.
In addition to the technology demos, the event also included networking sessions in virtual breakout rooms where participants could approach presenters with follow-up questions and connect with one another, as well as two engaging panel discussions on the following topics:
- ALERT Alumni Success Stories – Moderated by Carey Rappaport, Northeastern University and featuring David Benirschke, University of Notre Dame; Limor Martin, SeeTrue AI; Alex Showalter-Bucher, DarkPumpkin AI (formerly with MIT Lincoln Lab); and Melissa Sweat, Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA).
- ALERT as an Emeritus Center – Moderated by Michael Silevitch, Northeastern University and featuring Jennifer Dy, Northeastern University; John Fortune, Department of Homeland Security; Matthew Merzbacher, Alameda County Community Food Bank; Fernando Quivira, Engineering Consultant; and Carey Rappaport, Northeastern University.
While in-person events are generally preferred, the virtual format of the ALERT Technology Showcase resulted in a turnout on par with that of ALERT’s previous showcase, but with greater flexibility and convenience for attendees who could log into the event from anywhere. ALERT plans to hold its next event, the ADSA23 Workshop on “Autonomous Security Systems” virtually as well—splitting the conference across three sessions (11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. EDT) on May 4, 11, and 25.
From PhD Candidates to Professionals, ALERT Trio Continues to Collaborate February 22, 2021
Ziyan Wu, Srikrishna Karanam, and Meng Zheng understand the importance of collaboration. The trio of research scientists currently comprise a small, but effective, team at United Imaging Intelligence (Cambridge, MA); however, their professional journey together began as ALERT student researchers many years earlier.
Under the guidance of ALERT researcher and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) professor, Richard Radke, the three completed their doctoral programs at RPI—both Wu and Karanam completed their Ph.D. studies in Computer and Systems Engineering in 2014 and 2017, respectively, and Zheng completed her Ph.D. study in Electrical Engineering in 2020.
Furthering transformational research and next-generation technologies to address explosives-related threats is central to ALERT’s mission, as is demonstrating meaningful impact through its education program, which is focused on developing a highly skilled workforce for the homeland security enterprise. ALERT’s education program has introduced and guided hundreds of student researchers and career professionals into the workforces of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its stakeholders.
During their academic careers, Wu, Karanam, and Zheng worked closely with Radke, contributing to ALERT’s Human Detection Re-Identification for Mass Transit Environments research project, as well as the task order: Video Analytic Surveillance Transition (VAST), which involved the installation of a testbed in the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE). Following these two successful projects, they worked on the initial phase of Correlation of Luggage and Specific Passengers (CLASP), which leverages a realistic mock airport security checkpoint built in ALERT’s Video Analytics Laboratory at the Kostas Research Institute (KRI) for Homeland Security.
“The work I did for ALERT was important to my development as a researcher, because it was connected to a challenging real-world problem with critical security outcomes. For example, if the system misses one person going the wrong way in a security checkpoint, then this presents a serious security risk to the entire airport. Because of this, I learned to pay extra attention to algorithm and system design to ensure that there were no loopholes, which helped me develop good habits as a researcher,” said Wu.
“Instead of focusing on the performance of one fancy algorithm and whether it was meeting our performance goal on a particular benchmark dataset, we had to take a much more comprehensive viewpoint and consider how it would perform and serve stakeholders in a real-world scenario.”
In partnership with other ALERT researchers at Boston University and Northeastern University, and working closely with industry experts at Siemens, Radke’s research team was instrumental in developing the infrastructure for these testbeds—setting up camera networks and data recording devices, building software architecture, and developing algorithms to track passengers as they moved through the airport security checkpoint. According to Karanam, the real-world experience of collaborating with industry and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) professionals was beneficial to their careers.
“The typical Ph.D. student is concerned with publishing papers and graduating ASAP. In our situation, we were motivated by a real-world problem, and we had to work with real-world customers, both of which formed the basis of our unique PhD experiences. We learned how to map out customer needs and requirements, translate them to specific research problems, build algorithms and technical solutions to address the problems, and then manage expectations and communicate results properly with customers, who might not be experts in our technical area—in this case, computer vision,” said Karanam.
“When I was interviewing for jobs, I could sense that the people on the other side of the table were very surprised to hear that I had worked and communicated directly with customers as a Ph.D. student—it was very advantageous.”
After Wu completed his Ph.D. in 2014, he was hired at Siemens. Following in his footsteps, Karanam completed an internship under Wu, and was also hired at Siemens post-graduation. When the two moved on to United Imaging Institute, they brought Zheng on as an intern, who joined the team officially upon completing her Ph.D. in 2020.
Zheng attributes her problem-solving skills, which serve her well in her current professional role, to her time as an ALERT student researcher: “It provided me with the opportunity to apply the theoretical to real-world problems, such as checkpoint security, and that really helped me develop strong problem-solving techniques. I don’t think most Ph.D. candidates have that opportunity. This was the most valuable part of the experience for me.”
Radke looks back on the careers of his three students with pride:
“One of the best parts of being a professor is seeing your students grow and become independent researchers. Ziyan, Srikrishna, and Meng were three of my best, and it has been deeply satisfying to watch them mentor each other and collaborate over the course of more than 10 years. Ziyan and I originally came up with the idea of simulating a security checkpoint on the RPI campus in 2010; Srikrishna helped design the CLASP testbed when it was just an empty room in 2016; Meng’s algorithms were some of the first we applied to the feeds from CLASP when it was up and running in 2017. Along the way, they published a ton of jointly authored papers, released several benchmark datasets and code libraries to help the community, and have gotten many computer vision algorithms developed in the lab to work robustly in real-world operational environments.”
The trio, which now spend their days developing computer vision algorithms for medical applications, acknowledge it is a bit unusual to continue working so closely together post-graduation, but they were inspired by their Ph.D. advisor and his outlook on collegiality.
“Professor Radke actively encouraged graduating students to continue collaborating with current students—this motivated the three of us to continue collaborating and it is a large part of why we still work together today,” said Karanam
Virtual ADSA22: Improve Aviation Security by Reducing Operator Cognitive Load December 17, 2020
Unlike previous workshops in the Advanced Development for Security Applications (ADSA) series, this fall’s ADSA22 workshop, “Reducing Operator Cognitive Load in Aviation Security Equipment” was fully virtual and held over the course of four sessions (Nov. 17, Nov. 24, Dec. 1, and Dec. 8). While the change in format was due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it allowed for more robust attendance and engagement, especially from international attendees, as aviation security stakeholders from across academia, government, and industry were able to participate without having to travel.
These virtual sessions addressed the important topic of reducing operator cognitive load. Within aviation security, many security roles require continuous attention; workshop attendees gathered to discuss solutions to prevent vigilance decrement. The ADSA22 workshop addressed solutions to this problem, such as automating operator functions within aviation security, the adaptability of machine learning algorithms, implementing open architectures and third-party involvement, and emerging hardware and software technologies.
“As with most ADSA conferences held in the past, the virtual format held a plethora of technical information that was informative and engaging. This was all kicked-off by the RCA Assistant Administrator (Austin Gould) who, among other points of interest, made a strong note of awareness of COVID-19 and how TSA is actively adjusting technology endeavors to incorporate this vital component,” said Frank Cartwright, Capability Development & Integration (CDI) Branch Manager, Requirements & Architecture Division, TSA. “I don’t think the virtual format will completely replace the intangible benefits of a ‘live’ ADSA conference, but it truly pulled in all the main components which draw this community together.”
The workshop also focused on perspectives from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science & Technology (S&T) Directorate, and other aviation security stakeholders, and included thought-provoking talks from leaders outside aviation security—including professionals from the fields of sociology and medical imaging.
An important role of the ADSA Workshop series is technology foraging. ALERT intentionally looks for speakers in seemingly unrelated fields to present their technologies, because it is believed that can learn from these fields and technologies, and discover valuable applications for aviation security.
ALERT has hosted the ADSA Workshop series since 2009. Originally named the “Algorithm Development for Security Applications” Workshop series, the name was changed following ADSA10 in 2014 to reflect how the scope of the workshop series expanded beyond algorithm development. The ADSA Workshop series is intended to address research opportunities that may enable the development of next-generation systems and to facilitate collaboration and innovation between researchers from academia, national labs, and industry.
Dates for the spring workshop, ADSA23, have been set. ALERT stakeholders are encouraged to mark their calendars for May 4, 11, and 25—more information on the workshop and registration details will be forthcoming. ADSA23 will address the topic of Autonomous Systems for Aviation Security.
The final reports and presentations from ADSA22, and previous ADSA workshops are available to download here.
Additionally, ALERT will be hosting a series of half-hour seminars to allow deep-dives into specific topics related to aviation security. The seminars will begin in February 2021. Members of the ADSA community are encouraged to share specific topics of interest for these seminars with ALERT.
ALERT would like to thank all the presenters and attendees for making the ADSA22 workshop successful. In particular, ALERT would like to thank Frank Cartwright (Capability Development & Integration (CDI) Branch Manager, Requirements & Architecture Division, TSA) for coordinating TSA speakers, including an engaging keynote address from Austin Gould (Assistant Administrator for Requirements and Capabilities Analysis, TSA) and Diederik Stolk (Founding Partner, Goldsworthy, Stolk & Associates) for providing valuable insight on transforming the workshop into a virtual event.
ALERT Awarded Two New Homeland Security Task Orders December 17, 2020
Novel Technologies and Processes to Support Interdiction of Illicit Materials Task Order
ALERT received a task order from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate (DHS S&T) to support a two-year project known as “Novel Technologies and Processes to Support Interdiction of Illicit Materials,” with a specific focus on the mission needs of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). This task order builds on ALERT’s existing systems, methods, and algorithms for explosive threat detection, and it aims to improve DHS’s capabilities with respect to detection and interception of prohibited narcotics, agricultural products, currency, intellectual property, and other illegal goods entering through airports, land-border crossings, seaports, mail facilities, and cruise line terminals. ALERT will focus on facilitating the development of existing and emerging technologies and methodologies related to inspection of vehicles, people, mail, and containers in more efficient, effective, and cost-saving ways. This project will also assess the application of artificial intelligence and machine learning for DHS’s automated threat detection, operator assist algorithms, reconstruction algorithms, data-fusing algorithms, and cyber security efforts. ALERT brings specialized knowledge to this project with respect to projection and X-ray computed tomography at multiple energies, trace and vapor detection, Raman scatter spectroscopy, and more.
Enhanced Trace Explosives Detection, an Ambient Desorption Ionization Retrofitted Explosives Trace Detector Solution and a Continuous Automatic Non-Contact Sampler Based on Remote Heating Task Order
ALERT has received a task order from DHS S&T to support a one-year project known as, “Enhanced Trace Explosives Detection, an Ambient Desorption Ionization Retrofitted ETD Solution and a Continuous Automatic Non-Contact Sampler Based on Remote Heating.” This project’s tasks will be spearheaded by ALERT Thrust 1 Lead, Professor Jimmie Oxley (University of Rhode Island), Dr. Miriam Fico of ALERT’s industrial partner Smiths Detection, and ALERT collaborator, Avi Cagan of Eneregan, LLC.
ETDs are regularly used by DHS as a screening tool, but current ETDs have limitations. One component of this project will focus on the development of an Ambient Desorption Ionization module and its integration with currently deployed ETDs to selectively identify current and emerging explosives threats. This ADI retrofit solution greatly enhances ETD capabilities. Further, the work will include the investigation of novel non-contact sampling technologies to expand the ability to perform sampling at airport checkpoints, while minimizing the chances of viral cross-contamination and improving collection efficiency. Lastly, the project will perform a scenarios-based feasibility study on explosive vapor detection.
[Photo: An example of an explosives trace detection scanner used in airports, © Morpho Detection.]
ALERT SPARC Webinar Series 2020 October 30, 2020
ALERT hosted the online webinar series, SPARC (Seminars to Promote ALERT Research and Collaboration), beginning in June and continuing through the end of September, resulting in eight webinars over a four-month period with an average of fifty attendees per event. SPARC features some of ALERT’s researchers presenting their work with industry and government partners. As the ALERT Technology Showcase for 2020 was postponed due to COVID-19 limitations, the webinar series allowed for a forum to present the Center’s successful research partnerships and engage external audiences from academia, industry, and government who would typically attend the in-person showcase. ALERT plans to build on these success stories at the 2021 ALERT Technology Showcase.
To access the full set of SPARC presentations, slides, and the speaker bios below, please visit http://alert.northeastern.edu/sparc/
On the Fusion of X-Ray Data Types for Enhanced Materials Characterization
Dr. Eric Miller, Professor and Chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Tufts University
Dr. Dan Strellis, Senior Director R&D, Rapiscan Systems
BIPASS: Battery with Integrated Processing and Sensing System
Dr. Otto Gregory, Distinguished Engineering Professor of Chemical Engineering, University of Rhode Island
Dr. Brian Berland, Chief Technology Officer, ITN Energy Systems
Autonomous Raman Microscopy System for the Analysis of Trace Residues on Surfaces by Non-Expert Users
Dr. Eric Miller, Professor and Chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Tufts University
Dr. Romain Blanchard, Senior Director of the Safety & Security branch at Pendar Technologies
Sparse Angle Volumetric Reconstruction for Air Cargo CT
Dr. David Castañón, Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), Boston University
François Zayek, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Astrophysics Inc.
Near-Zero Power Integrated Microsystems for the IoT
Dr. Matteo Rinaldi, Associate Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Northeastern University
Dr. Zhenyun Qian, Research Assistant Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Northeastern University
Ion Mobility Spectrometer (IMS): One Stop Shopping For All Detection Needs
Dr. Jimmie Oxley, Professor of Chemistry, University of Rhode Island
Dr. Miriam Fico, Principal Scientist of Physical Sciences, Smiths Detection
Hybrid X-ray Transmission + Diffraction Systems for Aviation Security and Beyond
Dr. Joel Greenberg, Associate Research Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Duke University
Dr. David Coccarelli, Vice President of Operations, Quadridox, Inc.
Dr. Christopher Gregory, Principal Scientist for Imaging, Smiths Detection
Trace Explosives Sampling for Security Applications (TESSA): A Contact Sampling Task Order
Dr. Steve Beaudoin, Professor of Chemical Engineering, Purdue University
Dr. Alan Smith, Analytical Laboratory Manager, Signature Science, LLC
ALERT Researchers Work with U.S Army on Energetic Materials October 30, 2020
ALERT researcher Steve Beaudoin, professor of chemical engineering and director of Purdue University’s Energetic Research Center, and past ALERT researcher Jeffrey Rhoads, professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Ray W. Herrick Laboratories at Purdue’s College of Engineering, are engaged in a new three-year collaboration with the U.S Army to advance technology concerning explosives, propellants, and pyrotechnics (a.k.a. energetic materials). The project, formally known as Advancing Army Modernization Priorities through Collaborative Energetic Materials Research, focuses on priorities such as increasing effectiveness of weapons and increasing safety and sustainability.
For Purdue News, Rhoads, who is the leader of this major award, reported that there are currently eighteen research projects and groups conducting energetics research as part of this project, focusing on topics such as “gaining a better understanding of how shockwaves interact with the microstructure and defects in energetic materials; improving the performance of materials used in the aggressive service conditions such as gun launch and hypersonic flight; developing inkjet-printed conductive energetic materials; [and] developing new manufacturing techniques to encapsulate metal or composite materials with embedded sensors to develop health-monitoring smart armor.”
Professor Beaudoin currently leads ALERT research Thrust 2, “Trace and Vapor Sensors,” described in Northeastern University’s ALERT annual report as concentrating on understanding “the fundamental problems of trace and vapor detection of explosives and aiming to enable development of sensing and sampling systems capable of detecting ultra-low amounts of explosives which are both selective (i.e., able to reduce the number of false positives and false negatives) and adaptable (i.e., can accommodate new explosives as they become threats).”
Professor Rhoads also previously worked on research within ALERT’s Thrust 2, focusing on research and development of portable, integrated microscale sensors for explosives detection.
ALERT Phase 2 Year 7 Annual Report Available Online! October 30, 2020
October 29, 2020
ALERT is proud to announce that the Phase 2 Year 7 Annual Report is now available online. The report details the final year of research in ALERT’s four research thrusts:
- R1: Characterization & Elimination of Illicit Explosives
- R2: Trace & Vapor Sensors
- R3: Bulk Sensors & Sensor Systems
- R4: Video Analytics & Signature Analysis
The report also contains an overview of center accomplishments and a full bibliography of the journal articles and conference proceedings published under ALERT support in the past year (July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020), as well as comprehensive descriptions of the Year 7 activities that took place in the following areas:
- Research and Transition Program
- Education Program
- Technology Transition and Engagement
- Strategic Studies Program
- Safety Program
- Information Protection Program
- Industrial Liaison Initiatives and Partnerships
- Infrastructure and Evaluation
For reports from previous years, visit http://alert.northeastern.edu/annual-reports/
ALERT Launches SPARC Webinars June 30, 2020
ALERT’s free online summer webinar series, SPARC (Seminars to Promote ALERT Research and Collaboration), kicked off on June 24th! SPARC aims to provide a preview of the ground-breaking technologies to be demonstrated at the ALERT Technology Showcase and will focus on ALERT’s work with industry and government stakeholders.
The first webinar of the series was presented by Professor Eric Miller of Tufts University and principal investigator for project R4-B.2, and Dr. Dan Strellis of Rapiscan Systems. Professor Miller and Dr. Strellis discussed their work in a presentation titled, “On the fusion of X-ray data types for enhanced materials characterization”. They also highlighted the successful collaboration between ALERT and Rapiscan. The webinar was well attended with 70 participants from industry, academia, and government institutions.
The webinar recording will be uploaded on the event webpage, along with the presentation slides. Please check back on the event webpage at a later time!
For more information on the upcoming webinars, please visit http://alert.northeastern.edu/sparc/.
If you are interested in attending any of the webinars or have any questions, please reach out to Tiffany Lam at [email protected] for more information.
ALERT Researchers Matteo Rinaldi and Zhenyun Qian are awarded a $550K NSF Grant and patent June 30, 2020
ALERT Researchers Professor Matteo Rinaldi and Research Assistant Professor Zhenyun Qian were awarded a $550K NSF grant for “Zero Power Wireless Flame Detector for Ubiquitous Fire Monitoring” In May 2020. This award was made through NSF’s technology translation program, Partnerships for Innovation. The goal of the award is to develop a novel micromechanical flame detector which will consume near-zero power while in standby mode until triggered by the specific infrared (IR) signature emitted by a flame. Drs. Rinaldi and Qian will be working with United Technologies Corporation to develop a prototype meeting the demanding national flame detector standards that include a high level of system robustness and stability with respect to environmental variabilities such as extreme temperature and vibration. This planned wireless flame detector is intended to operate under conditions where conventional detectors are limited due to harsh environmental conditions and the zero-power consumption aspect will reduce the cost associated with standard sensor hardware.
Drs. Rinaldi and Qian were also awarded a patent for “Zero power plasmonic microelectromechanical device” in May 2020 related to their technology development for their ALERT Project R2-B.3. This research involves the development of ultra-miniaturized, low-cost, wireless IR sensors which are capable of continuously monitoring for thermal radiation associated with a threat (such as human intrusion) while consuming no power in standby mode.
Dr. Rinaldi’s research with ALERT focuses on the development of a new technology platform capable of performing multiple chemical analyses including gravimetric analysis, IR spectroscopy, and thermal analysis in a miniaturized footprint. The demonstrated technology overcomes fundamental scientific and engineering development challenges, enabling the implementation of a new generation of trace detectors that provide near real-time detection, high sensitivity, and high specificity for a targeted group of explosives, and resulting in very low false positive and false negative rates. Furthermore, the novel zero-power sensing microsystems developed in his ALERT project can enable unattended human detection for border protection by eliminating sensor maintenance cost associated with conventional detectors. Read more about Matteo Rinaldi’s work in Multi-Functional Nano-Electro-Opto-Mechanical (NEOM) Sensing Platform.
Researcher Highlight: Henry Medeiros on CLASP June 29, 2020
For users without YouTube access: Henry Medeiros on CLASP
The Correlating Luggage and Specific Passengers (CLASP) Task Order is a research initiative to develop technology to automatically track passengers and their divested items at the checkpoint using video analytics. This task order, funded by DHS Science and Technology has brought together research teams from several universities including Boston University, Northeastern University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Marquette University.
Henry Medeiros, Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Marquette University, is working on CLASP research that is specifically focused on creating algorithms that track passengers and their baggage items throughout the entire checkpoint. To develop this technology, Henry’s research team uses machine learning and algorithms developed to identify and detect various scenarios that may occur at a checkpoint.
The ultimate goal of Henry’s research team is to simplify the check-in process with a system that would be able to determine that each passenger is following the required security procedures at airport checkpoints. In our latest ALERT video, Henry discusses his work with CLASP and how this research is changing the airport security landscape.