A manufacturer has been working with the URI chemistry professor and the federal Homeland Security Center of Excellence she directs to determine if a device could detect the components of a bomb hidden in underwear. Oxley and her team at the Center of Excellence in Explosives, Detection, Mitigation, Response and Characterization at URI determined that the machine could.
Meanwhile, scientists, law enforcement and military personnel around the world are using a database she developed to assist them in the fight against explosives-based terrorism.
Projects such as this command the attention of businesses, governments, researchers and companies worldwide. Oxley and her team’s work also drew the attention of an entire crew from Popular Science magazine for an entire summer day at URI. The story is in the September issue of the magazine, which is on newsstands now.
“URI and Jimmie Oxley have given us a clear advantage in fighting terrorism in New York,” said Lt. John Kerwick, tactical commander of the K-9 Unit of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police Department. “When we came up here after the London (transit bombings in 2005), we were one of the few agencies to have access to this type of expertise. We just rave about Jimmie.”
Sgt. Bill Finucane said his New York-based agency, which provides law enforcement for the city’s mass transit system, as well as for Metro North and the Long Island Railroad, has been working with Oxley for six years.
Oxley said she and her team have been working with the transit police to develop training aids to help dogs detect peroxide-based explosives. Because peroxide is hazardous and dangerous to transport, it is impossible to train dogs with it. So Oxley’s team has developed aids that mimic the smell of peroxide, but pose no explosion hazard.
“Peroxide is a key component in improvised devices used frequently by terrorists, so we need to have our dogs trained to detect it,” Kerwick said. “We come up here three to four times a year to stay fresh.”
Oxley said the URI center is not only involved in research, but doing public service.
“Some of our biggest service clients are law enforcement agencies. When some of the improvised devices came into vogue, they were too sensitive for law enforcement agencies to handle.”
Oxley explained that for the Popular Science crew, her team not only conducted a demonstration, but ran a test to determine if the dogs detect pseudo explosives as they do the real explosives.
“It worked and we were really excited, because this was a first-time run during which the dogs were testing both,” said the chemistry professor and co-coordinator of the URI Forensic Science Partnership. “We wanted to make sure they could associate one with the other; that was an extremely important task.
“With K-9s, we are looking at the odor signature, and we have to do that on an explosive-by-explosive basis,” she said.
She added that Metropolitan Transit Authority police took advantage of training opportunities at URI long before other groups, but more and more agencies are seeking training, including the federal Transportation Security Administration, which has rotated dozens of agents through the URI campus this summer.
In addition, Oxley and her graduate students tested a thermal camera during the summer.
“The camera looks at differences between the thermal emission of your body and the emission of something you might have under your garment that you wouldn’t normally see. The idea is very non-invasive. It’s a very passive technique.”
She said it is a good way to detect smuggling as well.
“This particular company asked us, ‘Could our technique have detected the underwear bomber’?”
After working with the URI team, Oxley said, they can say, “Look an independent agency (URI) shows that our technique could have detected the underwear bomber.”
NOT FEELING BLUE: Kush Shukla, a member of Chemistry Professor Jimmie Oxley’s research team, shows how bomb-making residue can be detected. The research is part of work being done by Oxley and her team at the federal Homeland Security Center of Excellence she directs at URI.
BOOM GOES THE COFFEE CREAMER: URI students and crew members from Popular Science observe an explosion of coffee creamer during a recent demonstration for the magazine. The crew spent an entire day at URI interviewing Chemistry Professor Jimmie Oxley and her team members.
A NOSE FOR TROUBLE: Sgt. Bill Finucane of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police Department in New York works with McCarney, one of the department’s dogs, while testing canine explosive training aids developed by URI’s Jimmie Oxley and her team.
URI Photos by Michael Salerno.