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Students take first place in National Security Innovation Competition

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.