U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton received a comprehensive overview of Northeastern’s robust portfolio of security research on Thursday afternoon, when he visited the university’s George J. Kostas Research Institute for Homeland Security in Burlington, Massachusetts.
Led by a delegation including Mel Bernstein, senior vice provost for research and graduate education, Moulton spent the spent the day meeting with faculty members, touring state-of-the-art labs, and witnessing the fruits of Northeastern’s security-related research partnerships with federal agencies.
Northeastern faculty approach security issues from a use-inspired perspective, with a particular focus on foiling terrorist threats, developing sensing technology, and preventing cyberattacks on critical infrastructure, websites, and battlefield units. The university is the only higher education institution in Massachusetts to be designated as a Center of Excellence in Information Assurance, Cyber Defense, and Cyber Operations by the National Security Agency.
Moulton, a former Marine Corps infantry officer who completed four tours in Iraq, currently represents Massachusetts’ 6th Congressional District and sits on the House Armed Services Committee. During his visit, he underscored the importance of providing robust funding for basic security research. In his remarks to the New England Chapter of the National Defense Industrial Association following the tour, he pointed in particular to its ability to enhance the technical capability, acquisition strategy, and future readiness of the armed services.
Northeastern’s security research profile
Security, which President Barack Obama calls a “grand challenge” of the 21st century, is one Northeastern’s three major research thrusts. The Kostas Research Institute, for its part, brings together academia, industry, and government to advance resilience in the face of 21st century risks, and is but one of the university’s three major research centers dedicated to this topic. Here’s a brief summary of the other two:
- The Center for Awareness and Localization of Explosives-Related Threats, or ALERT, is a multi-university, Department of Homeland Security-funded Center of Excellence focused on detection, mitigation, and response to explosives-related threats. Researchers in this partnership apply their strengths in advanced sensor design, signal processing, sensor integration, explosives characterization, improvised explosive device detonator signatures, shock physics, and material science.
- The Center for Subsurface Sensing and Imaging Systems, or CenSSIS, is a multi-university, National Science Foundation-funded Engineering Research Center dedicated to revolutionizing technology for detecting and imaging biomedical, environmental, or geophysical objects. The center’s goal is two-pronged: to develop new technologies to detect hidden objects and then use those technologies to meet real-world subsurface challenges in areas ranging from noninvasive breast cancer detection to underground pollution assessment.
The projects undertaken at these cutting edge research facilities are inherently interdisciplinary and draw on faculty in fields ranging from engineering and physics to network science and biochemistry. They feature collaboration with government defense and security agencies, security-based think tanks, and defense contractors across the globe.
Northeastern faculty members are currently working on more than 90 Department of Defense-funded research projects, for which they have received in excess of $51 million in funding. Vincent Harris, for example, the William Lincoln Smith Chair Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Laura Lewis, a professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, received a two-year, $3 million grant from the U.S. Army Research Lab. Their work—which includes the assistance of five out-of-state industry partners—is focused on developing strategic materials components for antennas used in communication and intelligence gathering, including surveillance and reconnaissance.
Harris led Moulton’s tour of the Strategic Materials Research Lab—one of five distinct stops on the congressman’s journey through the Kostas Research Institute. Moulton also familiarized himself with these labs, centers, and state-of-the-art systems located in the $15 million, 70,000-square-foot facility:
- The Laboratory for Structural Testing of Resilient and Sustainable Systems: Dubbed the STReSS Lab, the 4,000-square-foot facility includes a 2,000-square-foot reinforced concrete strong floor to enable full-scale testing of buildings, bridges, and other structures.
- The Nanoscale Offset Printing System: Called NanoOPS for short, this system blends traditional offset-type printing technologies with state-of-the-art technologies at the nanoscale to make products that leverage nanomaterials’ superior properties.
- The Rogers Corporation Innovation Center: Opened in 2014, this 9,000-square-foot facility includes laboratories, conference rooms, and office space designed to facilitate communication and collaboration between the on-site Rogers staff members and the Northeastern students and faculty working alongside them. The goal of this academic-industry partnership is to advance basic research and develop commercially viable breakthrough innovations in advanced materials to address global challenges for clean energy, Internet connectivity, safety, and security.
‘Making a difference in the world’
After the tour, Moulton and the Northeastern delegation discussed the university’s vast array of research partnerships, with a particular focus on its ongoing relationships with the DOD and the DHS. The delegation—which included Bernstein; Peter Boynton, CEO and director of the Kostas Research Institute; Nadine Aubry, dean of the College of Engineering; and David Luzzi, the executive director of the Strategic Security Initiative—underscored Northeastern’s commitment to solving global challenges in security.
“We really want to make a difference in the world we live in,” Aubry told Moulton. “To that end, we’re making sure that the research we do has real-world applications and addresses the challenges facing out society.” Added Bernstein: “We’re committed to dealing with the constant cybersecurity threats, both from a technical perspective and a policy perspective.”