Sen. Reed Meets with URI researchers leading efforts to reduce threats from explosives, cyber attacks

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KINGSTON, RI – February, 25, 2014 — U.S. Sen. Jack Reed met Monday with University of Rhode Island professors from chemistry, engineering and cyber security to see firsthand some of the leading research they are conducting on explosives, explosives detection, and cyber security, and discuss efforts to strengthen URI’s role in physical and cyber security study.

During a campus tour yesterday with Gerald Sonnenfeld, URI vice president for research and economic development; Jimmie Oxley, URI professor of chemistry and director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence in Explosives, Detection, Mitigation, and Response at the University of Rhode Island; Otto Gregory, URI distinguished professor of engineering and co-director of the Sensors and Surface Technology Partnership; Lisa DiPippo, associate professor of computer science and the academic director of the Cyber Security Program at URI; Alan Davis of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport; and URI students, Reed observed demonstrations of some of the work URI is doing to improve security, detect explosives and neutralize their impact, and strengthen the nation’s cyber security capabilities.

“I am impressed by the work URI is doing to detect new threats and strengthen both the physical and cyber security of our nation. And I am proud that Rhode Island is taking a lead role in developing expertise in these critical fields,” said Reed, a member of both the Appropriations and Armed Services committees. “The explosives detection work and training Dr. Oxley and her team are doing is critical to law enforcement and helping make our nation safer. I am pleased to have helped secure federal funds to enable URI to train the next generation of scientists, engineers and cyber security experts to meet the challenges of the future and help us stay a step ahead of criminals and terrorists.”

In 2008, URI was awarded $5.15 million from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to launch the Center of Excellence in Explosives, Detection, Mitigation, Response, along with another $4 million in federal funds over the next four years. URI was recently awarded an additional $500,000 in federal funding to continue explosives research at the center. And URI’s Digital Forensics Program is a national leader in digital forensics academic programs, which includes an undergraduate and graduate curriculum, a research program, and a service center. Victor Fay-Wolfe, URI professor of computer science and founder of URI’s Digital Forensics Program, was unable to attend the briefing due to illness. Fay-Wolfe has been principal investigator on more than $10 million in federal research grants and published more than 100 professional articles and books.

Professor Gregory started the program with an outline of his team’s work on sensors and how they might be able to be used to sense explosive materials. He said the goal is to develop miniature sensors that could be placed in large networked applications like airports or in handheld devices. NUWC’s Davis added that such technology could be used in the military, especially on ships as they enter foreign ports.

Gregory also discussed efforts to develop a new type of steel that would resist buckling in an event such as occurred during the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. This was a joint project between his lab and Mechanical Engineering Professor Hamouda Ghonem. It was noted that structural steel is one of the most expensive aspects of any building project; thus, development of such a product would need to be economically viable.

Professor Oxley then described her lab’s efforts working with a local company to develop commercially viable training aids for bomb sniffing dogs. Oxley has worked extensively with law enforcement agencies in training their dogs on the Kingston campus, but the goal is to make portable, safe training aids.

Oxley also described the testing ranges at URI’s Peckham Farm in Kingston and at URI’s W. Alton Jones Campus in West Greenwich.

Oxley also discussed the difficulty vendors of explosive detection instruments have in building explosive libraries, tweaking algorithms, and performing beta screening. They need help testing their technology before it is ready for U.S. government scrutiny. “This would function like an Underwriters Laboratory concept for pre-screening before these companies seek federal review,” Oxley said.

In addition, Oxley, representing chemistry, with Gregory, representing engineering, and DiPippo representing computer science, have a dream of creating an overarching center for Cyber and Physical Security at URI. Its work would focus on physical protection from threats and bombs, and cyber protection from spying and malware. The center would take as its model problem protection of power grids and transportation networks, DiPippo said. Transportation work is a natural because URI has its own federally supported Transportation Center.

DiPippo also talked about a national initiative for Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) cadets. URI proposes a National Center for Cyber Security Education at URI that would benefit ROTC cadets across the country. Courses would be offered online so cadets at their own institutions could complete the program remotely. They would earn credit toward their own degrees and be issued a certificate from URI. URI Army ROTC cadets would be able to take the courses on campus and apply them directly to their degrees. DiPippo wants her team at URI’s Digital Forensics and Cyber Security Center to start with a pilot that would involve ROTC students at Rhode Island universities and colleges that have such programs.

When cadets become commissioned officers and have earned their degrees, DiPippo said they would have a strong credential in cyber security that she hopes would lead them to assignments at a cyber security or intelligence post. She said it could mirror the way in which URI ROTC-nursing students are immediately assigned to the Army’s Nursing Corps.

Pictured above

Jimmie Oxley, URI professor of chemistry and director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence in Explosives, Detection, Mitigation, and Response at the University of Rhode Island gives U.S, Sen. Jack Reed a tour of her laboratory Monday.

University of Rhode Island doctoral students in chemistry Rebecca Levin of Atlanta, Ga. and Jon Canino of Cranston conduct a demonstration for U.S. Sen. Jack Reed Monday during a tour of the lab of Jimmie Oxley, URI professor of chemistry and director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence in Explosives, Detection, Mitigation, and Response at the University of Rhode Island.

URI Photos by Michael Salerno Photography.