News & Events
Fundamentals of Explosives Course January 27, 2017
A Fundamentals of Explosives Course is being offered at the University of Rhode Island from May 2-4, 2017. This course examines the chemistry of explosives, the physics of detonation waves and their initiation, and the issues involved in safe handling and characterizing these materials. Explosive output and coupling to surroundings, with specific application to structural response, will be discussed. The course will address terrorist bombings, the gathering, analysis and interpretation of evidence, improvised explosives, and explosive detection. Lecturers are internationally known experts.
There will also be an optional Explosive Analysis & Safety session on Friday May 5, 2017 with an emphasis on techniques in mass spectrometry and thermal analysis as well as best practices in laboratory work with explosives.
Space is limited and early registration is encouraged. For more information about this course, please reach out directly to ALERT researcher, Dr. Jimmie Oxley at [email protected].
Year 4 Program Review Highlights ALERT Student Involvement January 27, 2017
The ALERT Year 4 Program Review was held on January 11th & 12th at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. The purpose of this review was to evaluate the ALERT research portfolio at both the theme and project levels, as well as the Center’s education program, transition efforts, and industrial partnerships. Several graduate students from ALERT’s academic partner institutions presented at this year’s review on behalf of the research projects in which they are currently involved.
University of Rhode Island PhD candidates, Austin Brown and Kevin Colizza presented on ALERT research related to the characterization and safe elimination of explosives materials, which they conducted under the guidance of Dr. Jimmie Oxley. Research in explosives characterization and elimination is especially important to those in the Homeland Security Enterprise tasked with the detection, identification, and destruction of homemade explosives (HMEs), such as bomb squads, and other first-responders.
Purdue University M.S. candidate, Nick Cummock presented on ALERT research led by Dr. Steven Son and related to small-scale characterization of homemade explosives (HMEs). The specific compositions of HMEs are nearly limitless, so making accurate assessments of threats from these materials is challenging. This research project seeks to develop a small-scale experimental approach that will result in quicker and more cost-effective characterization of HMEs, leading to greater accuracy in modeling and prediction of explosives related threats.
University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez M.S. candidate, Amanda Figueroa presented on her research project led by Dr. Samuel Hernandez. This research project deals with the use of infrared spectroscopy (IR) in standoff mode and coupled to laser sources operating in the mid-infrared (MIR) to develop confirming orthogonal chemical sensors for detecting explosives residues on clothing, travel bags, personal bags, laptop bags/cases, skin, and other substrates.
Xiao Wang, another Purdue University student and PhD candidate, presented on ALERT research conducted under the guidance of Dr. Charles Bouman and Dr. Ken Sauer related to advanced baggage screening and automatic target recognition (ATR), which is achieved via algorithms and devices primed to recognize objects based on data obtained from sensors. This research project seeks to improve the detection of potential threats in scanned baggage and reduce the false alarm rate without compromising safety at airport security checkpoints, resulting in a reduction of security costs and an overall safer and smoother experience for passengers.
Northeastern University PhD candidate, Mengran Gou presented on ALERT research led by Dr. Octavia Camps and Dr. Mario Sznaier and related to video-based methods to identify and track potential threats in heavily crowded public spaces. Video-based methods have an enormous potential for providing advance warning of terrorist activities and threats. In addition, they can assist and substantially enhance localized, complementary sensors that are more restricted in range, such as radar, infrared, and chemical detectors.
In addition to the outstanding ALERT student presentations that took place at the Year 4 Program Review, the Center introduced four new research projects taking place at Boston University, Duke University, Purdue University, and the University of Notre Dame.
Photo caption: ALERT Students (from left to right): Nicholas Cummock (Purdue University), Kevin Colizza (University of Rhode Island), Xiao Wang (Purdue University), Austin Brown (University of Rhode Island), Amanda Figueroa (University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez), and Mengran Gou (Northeastern University).
Student Spotlight: Christian Sorensen November 1, 2016
Christian Sorensen, a Ph.D. student in Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University, is our newest participant in the ALERT DHS HS-STEM (Homeland Security Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Science and Engineering Workforce Development Program (SEWDP). Christian began his graduate program at Purdue this fall, and is working with ALERT researcher, Prof. Steven Son. His research project is focused on how to better predict the threat of characterized ammonium nitrate-based homemade explosives. When asked what he is most passionate about when it comes to his research, he stated, “I’m interested in the aspects that lead to tools or procedures for public safety, while also gaining the knowledge base necessary to study future threats and provide expert technical knowledge about current explosive hazards.”
Christian’s involvement in Homeland Security began when he served as a Team Leader of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) in the U.S. Air Force, where he gained first-hand experience of explosives threats. After leaving active military duty, he then went on to attend the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (NMT), to obtain a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering with the Highest Honors in 2015. After graduating, Christian worked as a post-baccalaureate research assistant at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), where he eventually taught military EOD technicians various explosives detection techniques through LANL’s Advanced Home Made Explosives course.
Of his experience working with Christian so far, Prof. Son expressed that, “Typically graduate students that join my group have very little experience with explosives. However, Christian comes to our group with many years of experience in the Air Force, as well as a year of research experience at Los Alamos National Laboratory. His experience is proving to be to be a great benefit to our group. For example, he did a demonstration for my energetic materials combustion class based on what he learned at Los Alamos teaching first responders. We expect great things from Christian and very much appreciate his ALERT support.”
As for his future plans to work within the Department of Homeland Security enterprise, he would like to return to LANL to work on high explosive science with an emphasis on better understanding ‘non-standard’ explosives (i.e. those not used by the military or in the commercial sector), and says he would also like to reprise his teaching role for military EOD technicians.
The 2017 DHS Summer Research Team Program for Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) November 1, 2016
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) are now seeking application for the 2017 DHS Summer Research Team Program for Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). Participating teams will spend the summer of 2017 working with researchers at various DHS research centers. Faculty at MSIs can submit their applications to ORISE by December 19th, 2016.
For more information, please visit: http://www.orau.gov/dhseducation/faculty
The DHS 2017 Summer HS-STEM Internship Program November 1, 2016
The Department of Homeland Security 2017 HS-STEM Internship Program is now accepting applications until December 7, 2016. This program is sponsored by The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate Office of University Programs, and runs for 10-weeks during the summer. It is geared towards students majoring in homeland security related science, technology, engineering and mathematics (HS-STEM) disciplines. The program provides students with quality research experiences at federal research facilities located across the country and allows students the opportunity to establish connections with DHS professionals. It is open to undergraduate and graduate students in a broad spectrum of HS-STEM disciplines and DHS mission-relevant Research Areas.
Developing a Next Generation Screening System to Keep First Responders Safe, and People in Motion November 1, 2016
ALERT is working on developing the first inexpensive, high resolution millimeter-wave radar (mm-wave) system for the purpose of detecting and identifying potential suicide bombers in motion and at a safe distance. Current millimeter-wave imaging systems for security screening require people to stop and stand in front of the scanning system. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has identified that being able to detect security threats without interrupting the motion of the person under test will be one of the most valuable features of the next generation personnel screening systems [Checkpoint of the Future Roadmap 2020, now Smart Security].
Professors Carey Rappaport and Jose Martinez are leading a team that wants to make that feature a reality. ALERT’s mm-wave radar system uses multiple radar sensors simultaneously. By coordinating transmitters and receivers from both sides of a walkway, the full picture of a subject moving between them is formed. At present, mm-wave radar is the only modality that can both penetrate and sense beneath clothing as far as 50 meters away.
The high resolution mm-wave radar system has two configurations. The first configuration, “on-the-move,” will be able to distinguish security threats hidden on individuals at mid-ranges (2-10 meters) even when those individuals are in motion. The second “van-based” configuration of the system would be able to make detections at stand-off ranges (10-40 meters). The system is non-invasive, provides minimally-disruptive scanning with quality imaging and a fast data collection time of less than 10ms. ALERT’s system would also be the first radar system that is capable of functioning at multiple ranges for both indoor and outdoor scenarios
One of ALERT’s Industrial Members, HXI Inc., has been collaborating with our research team on this technology. Together, HXI and ALERT have designed, fabricated, integrated, and validated the radar system. ALERT expects that after the assembling the first Gen-3 prototype, the partnership will transition the technology to the millimeter-wave imaging market. Additionally, new low-cost miniaturized modules are being developed by HXI for the next generation mm-wave system.
Caption: (Image Above Right) Gen-2 mm-wave radar system. The transmitting vertical array is shown on the left of the image, while the receiving horizontal array is shown on the right.
ALERT Receives Funding for Strategic Initiatives November 1, 2016
The ALERT Center of Excellence at Northeastern University has received additional funding from the Department of Homeland Security for the following projects:
- A project entitled Research and Development of Systems for Tracking Passengers and Divested Items at the Checkpoint, also known by its acronym CLASP (Correlating Luggage and Specific Passengers), which will address tracking passengers and divested items at the checkpoint.
- In collaboration with the Center for Visualization at Data Analytics (CVADA), ALERT received funding to continue the development of a Video Be on the Lookout (vBOLO) system to help re-identify subjects of interest as they re-appear in a surveillance system.
- ALERT also received funding for Adaptive Automatic Target Recognition for CT-Based Object Detection Systems, otherwise known as AATR. The researchers involved with this project will develop adaptive automated target recognition (ATR) algorithms for CT-based explosive detection systems (EDS) for inspection of divested items at the checkpoint and checked luggage. The focus will be on adaptive ATR (AATR) algorithms that can be configured in the field to add new targets after deployment without having to retrain and retest the ATR.
Photo caption: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s initial Airport Security Area Testbed serves as the foundation for the CLASP research effort.
ALERT Welcomes Newest Industrial Member, Analog Devices, Inc. November 1, 2016
ALERT is pleased to announce its newest industrial member, Analog Devices, Inc. (ADI). ADI is a leading designer and manufacturer of high-performance analog and microwave integrated circuits and complete integrated solutions. For more than 50 years, ADI has been at the forefront of innovation in the area of sensing and signal processing for commercial as well as Aerospace and Defense applications. Analog Devices has Massachusetts design centers in Wilmington, Chelmsford, and Norwood. ALERT welcomes Analog Devices, Inc. into our community and is looking forward to a long-standing strategic partnership.
Analog Devices’ Aerospace and Defense division joined ALERT’s Industrial Advisory Board (IAB) in the third quarter of 2016. ADI is interested in collaborating with ALERT faculty on millimeter-wave imaging, signal processing, CT imaging, and stand-off trace explosives detection. Mr. Bryan Goldstein, General Manager of ADI’s Aerospace and Defense division, will be presenting an overview of their company at ALERT’s annual IAB Meeting on Monday, November 14, 2016.
The keynote address for this year’s IAB Meeting will be given by George Naccara, Federal Security Director for the Transportation Administration (TSA) under the Department of Homeland Security at Logan International Airport.
ALERT’s annual IAB Meeting, and other members-only events give industrial members the opportunity to network with other members, faculty from ALERT’s partner institutions, and local, state, and federal representatives. Other advantages of ALERT industrial membership include admission to the Annual Student Pipeline Industry Roundtable Event (ASPIRE), providing industrial members with access to qualified job-seeking students; the opportunity to request targeted research in an area of interest to their organizations; and waivers of ALERT workshop registration fees. For more advantages of ALERT industrial membership, please see the Benefits of Collaboration, or contact our Industrial and Government Liaison Officer, Ms. Emel Bulat at [email protected].
Photo Caption: ALERT researcher, Prof. Carey Rappaport of Northeastern University presents at a previous IAB Meeting. The annual IAB Meeting brings industrial members together with faculty, as well as local, state, and federal representatives.
Student Spotlight: Matthew Tivnan August 29, 2016
Matthew Tivnan, a senior undergraduate in Electrical Engineering and Physics at Northeastern University, is our first undergraduate student to participate in the ALERT DHS HS-STEM (Homeland Security Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Science and Engineering Workforce Development Program (SEWDP).
The Science and Engineering Workforce Development Program was previously known as the Career Development Program (CDP), and 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 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, Matt has worked with Prof. Carey Rappaport on a project focused on the Microwave Radar Imaging in Biological Tissue, which can be used to detect surgically implanted explosives and breast cancer tumors. By studying the scattering of electromagnetic waves in biological tissues he designs advanced imaging algorithms for the detection and localization of dangerous targets.
Although he applied to Northeastern with the intent of studying music, Matt quickly changed majors to Electrical Engineering, and began working with Prof. Rappaport his freshmen year when he participated in the ALERT and Gordon-CenSSIS Scholars Program. His involvement since has only increased, as he became a summer REU participant, an ALERT and Gordon-CenSSIS Mentor, and is now part of the SEWDP. Last spring, Matt spent his co-op working for Photodiagnostic Systems Inc. (PDSI), a Massachusetts-based company founded and chaired by Bernard M. Gordon, which makes advanced imaging systems for medical and security applications. As an Apprentice Imaging Engineer, he spent his time there working on PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scatter correction algorithms, wrote a 2D projection algorithm using 3D CT (Computed Tomography) data, designed a 3D dynamic balancing procedure for a rotating CT disk, and helped build several CT scanners from the ground up.
When asked how his co-op experience shaped his career goals and what his plans are for the near future, he says, “At PDSI, I learned about a great option for a career I would really enjoy. I’m planning to take a year after I graduate in May 2017 to work in industry, and am looking for a position where I can work on advanced imaging technology. After that, I’m hoping to continue on to graduate school.”
ALERT REUs Present Summer Research August 29, 2016
This summer, ALERT hosted three undergraduate students at Northeastern University to participate in a 10-week Research Experience for Undergraduates program. The ALERT REU program at NEU is partnered with other REU programs in the university’s College of Engineering, and builds a cohort of motivated students who attend professional development meetings and program activities, including presentations on Research Ethics, Lab Safety, PowerPoint Presentation Skills and Scientific Storytelling. At the end of the summer, each REU gives a final presentation of their research project. The presentation addresses the project’s overall mission and endeavors, the REU’s specific contributions to the project, as well as what knowledge and skills they gained through the process. This year’s students worked on projects related to ALERT’s Bulk Sensors & Sensor Systems research.
REU Anthony Bisulco (’18) is a third year NU student who worked with Professor Jose Martinez-Lorenzo on ALERT’s Rapid Security Threat Detection via MIMO (Multiple Input, Multiple Output) Millimeter Wave Imaging project.
In his words, “The main purpose of my REU project is to improve the overall passenger experience during the airport security screening process. Currently, this process is plaqued with many downfalls such as slow throughput, frequent false alarms and significant passenger divestment and recollection. The working goal of the project I am working on is to improve this process by creating ‘On the Move Screening’ where passengers walk at a normal pace through what appears to be a tunnel without the need to divest any clothing or personal items.”
Anthony’s project worked to increase the image quality of a 3D imaging millimeter wave radar (“Tunnel System”) with the goal of improving the system’s threat detection capability. “One part of this radar is various transmitters/receivers which illuminate/receiver the target (Human Torso) at various angles. As a result of adding transmitters/receivers the image quality is increased. Rather than adding multiple transmitters or receivers, my project added microwave switches to the system, which is the equivalent of adding more transmitters and receivers for imaging. Overall, I mainly designed the system for controlling these switches and developed some algorithms for optimizing the best imaging positions.”
Spencer Pozder (‘19) and Justin Xia (‘19) worked with Professor Carey Rappaport on Feasibility Investigations in Multistatic Imaging Techniques for their Research Experience. Currently, active millimeter wave radar is used for imaging objects concealed on the human body at airport security checkpoints. The current monostatic configurations are unable to accurately image objects at certain angles, give lower resolution, cost more, trigger more false alarms and have longer execution times. ALERT is interested in a multistatic configuration in an “On the Move” scanning system, capable of receiving image information from multiple angles in parallel, possibly increasing resolution and accuracy of the images produced.
The team developed a product using hardware from ALERT Industrial Partners, Rapiscan and Analog Devices, creating a functional system and imaging algorithm capable of reconstructing images. They also redesigned and relocated transmitter and receiver boards to accommodate the optimized system configuration and designed mechanical structure for holding transmitters and receivers. The “On the Move” system is currently being prototyped and patented.
In addition to this program, ALERT partner universities, including the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez and Notre Dame, also hosted summer REU participants in their labs.
The REU 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.