News & Events

ALERT Transitions to a DHS S&T Emeritus Center of Excellence December 16, 2021

For users without YouTube access: The ALERT Center Overview

As of spring 2021, ALERT transitioned to become an emeritus Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate Center of Excellence.

Since its founding in 2008, ALERT has conducted transformational research, developed technologies, and provided educational development to improve the effective characterization, detection, mitigation and response to explosives-related threats facing the country and the world. Throughout ALERT’s existence, we have worked with strategic partners Northeastern University, Boston University, Purdue University and the University of Rhode Island towards our goals of eliminating illicit explosives, improving on actionable tracing detection, raising the reliability of screening, increasing the accuracy of long distance stand-off discovery of threats and seamlessly transitioning research.

As an Emeritus Center of Excellence, ALERT will continue to conduct research and technology development on several Task Orders and will continue to organize the Advanced Development for Security Applications (ADSA) and the Customs and Border Protection – Advanced Developments Encompassing Processes and Technologies (CBP-ADEPT) workshop series.

In our latest video, ALERT Director Michael Silevitch discusses ALERT’s impact over the years, including but not limited to, the test beds and task orders that have been ushering ALERT technology into the field and into industrial partnerships.

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

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.

Matteo Rinaldi and Zhenyun Qian awarded patent May 14, 2020

Northeastern University’s Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and principal investigator for Project R2-B.3, Matteo Rinaldi, and Research Assistant Professor Zhenyun Qian were awarded a patent for “Zero power plasmonic microelectromechanical device”. Read more about the patent here:

ALERT Student Emily Belk featured in podcast, “Thinking Through Autonomy” January 3, 2020

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Centers of Excellence (COE) Summit Grand Challenge Student Competition was held on July 31, 2019 at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia. ALERT Student Emily Belk of Northeastern University and her team won first place with their proposal entitled, “Automated Drone Integrated Information System (ADIIS).” In October 2019, she was invited to participate in Ken Dunlap’s podcast, “Thinking Through Autonomy”, along with other students and mentors to discuss their research and experiences at the Grand Challenge Student Competition. Others featured in the podcast included COE representatives who advised the student participants and served on the COE Summit Grand Challenge Committee –  Beth Austin-DeFares from the Maritime Security COE at Stevens Institute of Technology, Stu Mackenzie from the Criminal Investigations and Network Analysis  COE at George Mason University, and Andrea Whitesell from the Critical Infrastructure Resilience Institute COE at the University of Illinois at Urbana– Champaign, as well as, Will Case, a student from Johnson C. Smith University who was a member of the second place winning team.

Hear about Emily’s experiences during the Grand Challenge and her work with ALERT on the podcast, “Thinking Through Autonomy”.

ALERT Collaborates with CBP on Technology Demonstration at Los Angeles/Long Beach Seaport December 18, 2019

On Thursday, November 21, 2019, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Office of Field Operations at the Los Angeles/Long Beach Seaport headed by Chief Victor Todorov, hosted an all-day Technology Demonstration organized and led by ALERT Industrial Liaison Officer, Ms. Emel Bulat. The meeting was well-attended with six members of the ALERT researchers and staff, seven industry representatives, six senior DHS personnel and 25 CBP officers participating.

To kick-off the meeting, General Robert Newman, Executive Director for the Office of Mission and Capability Support at DHS S&T gave welcoming remarks along with Dr. Laura Parker, Program Manager for DHS S&T, Mr. David Taylor, Portfolio Manager, for DHS S&T and CBP Assistant Port Director Edward Morones. In preparation for the event, four of ALERT’s industry partners including Pendar Technologies, Rapiscan Systems, Rigaku Analytical Equipment, and Smiths Detection prepared live demonstrations of six instruments including handheld Raman Spectroscopy units and bench-top or handheld Ion Mobility Spectrometry systems.


One week prior to the event, vendors were given a list of approximately 40 compounds, mostly from a Drug Enforcement Agency list of precursors, to add to their instruments’ lookup libraries for sample identification. Ten samples consisting of 1 to 4 compounds from the aforementioned list were prepared for analysis and scanned. At the end of the meeting, six “live” shipments were scanned on the warehouse floor. A team of CBP/DHS S&T/ALERT evaluators are currently reviewing the results which will be reported to the participating vendors by the end of December.

The enthusiasm with which the CBP Officers and vendors prepared for and participated in the Technology Demonstration made this event a great success. We thank them for their partnership and teamwork.

ALERT Researchers, Dr. Jimmie Oxley and Dr. Otto Gregory featured in the Press December 18, 2019

ALERT Researcher and URI Professor, Dr. Jimmie Oxley, was recently featured on CBS News discussing TSA projects aimed at improving the security screening process for travelers. The story details new technology being developed as part of ALERT research at URI such as the desensitizing agent known as SCHMOO (Safe Control of Hazard Materials or Others Onsite) recently developed by Dr. Oxley’s team.  SCHMOO is a unique gel that can be applied to hazardous materials to neutralize them and allow for safe removal and transportation for later analysis.

The CBS article also describes the “digital dog nose” being developed by ALERT Researcher and URI Professor, Otto Gregory with the goal of detecting explosives as well as or better than a bomb-sniffing dog.  Dr. Gregory is featured in an additional story on ABC News  during with he describes one benefit of the digital dog nose as being available around the clock, thereby not requiring breaks and reinforcement which is necessary for the dogs.

Both news items also describe the “Innovation Checkpoint” at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas which is a testing space for TSA technologies such as ID readers that will scan licenses to validate identification and flight information without the need to show a boarding pass at the security checkpoint.


Dr. Gregory’s related journal article titled, “Orthogonal Sensors for the Trace Detection of Explosives” appeared in IEEE Sensors in October 2019 and was the subject of a lead story in the IEEE Spectrum.

Watch the full CBS feature story here:

Watch the full ABC affiliate feature story here:


ALERT Researcher Matteo Rinaldi Receives $473K NSF Grant October 31, 2019

ALERT Faculty Professor Matteo Rinaldi is part of a research team awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation for “Fully Integrated Parametric Filters for Extensive Phase-Noise Reduction in Low-Power RF Front-Ends and Resonant Sensing Platforms.” Dr. Rinaldi, along with Assistant Professor Cristian Cassella (PI), and Associate Professor Marvin Onabajo, will use this award to develop next-generation micro- and nano-sensors with a longer battery lifetime and the ability to transmit a higher volume of data.

The project, executed by a multidisciplinary team of machine learning, systems, and networking researchers, aims to develop new techniques to achieve frequency stability in low-power and high-frequency integrated oscillators, addressing one of the most critical challenges that is currently limiting the performance of RF receivers and resonant sensing platforms. This research will lead to integrated wireless front-ends with longer battery lifetime and capable to transmit larger volumes of information, at higher rates. Moreover, the outcomes of the research will enable unprecedented levels of resolution and sensitivity to be attained in next-generation low-power micro- and nano-sensors.

Dr. Rinaldi’s research with ALERT focuses on understanding and exploiting the fundamental properties of micro/nanomechanical structures and advanced nanomaterials to engineer new classes of micro and nanoelectromechanical systems (M/NEMS) with unique and enabling features applied to the areas of chemical, physical and biological sensing and low power reconfigurable radio communication systems. These next generation trace detectors should provide near real-time detection, high sensitivity, and high specificity for a targeted group of explosives, and should result in very low false positive and false negative rates. Read more about Matteo Rinaldi’s work in Multi-Functional Nano-Electro-Opto-Mechanical (NEOM) Sensing Platform.

ALERT Researchers Awarded Patent May 29, 2019

May 29, 2019

ALERT researchers, Professor Carey Rappaport and Professor Jose Martinez-Lorenzo of Northeastern University were awarded a patent for an “On-the-Move Millimeter Wave Interrogation System with a Hallway of Multiple Transmitters and Receivers” on May 21, 2019.

In conventional screening systems that use radar imaging for surveillance and detection purposes, an object of interest may be illuminated (using millimeter wave) and the scattered field measured and processed to reconstruct a feature of the object. These systems may generate an image that profiles a detectable shape, outline and/or movement of an object or subject; however, conventional radar systems, such as a portal-based system, constrains a subject from movement. Professor Rappaport and Professor Martinez-Lorenzo’s patented solution allows for screening an unconstrained subject, meaning an individual could be scanned for foreign objects attached to their bodies (such as explosives and weapons hidden under clothing) as they moved through a hallway of transmitters and receivers. Such a system could lead to faster and more accurate screening of individuals as they make their way through security checkpoints.

Read more about the “On-the-Move Millimeter Wave Interrogation System with a Hallway of Multiple Transmitters and Receivers” patent here.

To learn more about the work Professor Rappaport and Professor Martinez-Lorenzo are doing to make screening for explosives and weapons more effective and efficient, visit their respective project pages: Projects R3-A.2 and R3-A.3, and Project R3-B.1.