URI launches $5.15 million federal Center of Excellence in Explosives research

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One of 12 national centers established by U.S. Department of Homeland Security

KINGSTON, R.I. – October 15, 2008 — With the touch of a lighter to specially treated gauze, Jay M. Cohen of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security launched the department’s new Center of Excellence in Explosives, Detection, Mitigation, Response and Characterization at the University of Rhode Island.

As the undersecretary for science and technology ignited the letters spelling out “URI,” officials from federal, state and local government, the University of Rhode Island, co-lead institution Northeastern University, and students applauded as the gauze burst into bright, brief flames.

The Center will bring $5.15 million to URI over the next three years.

“We’re excited about the work this Center will do,” Cohen said. “Detecting, defeating, and destroying explosive devices before they can get to their target is a critically important goal. If you get the bomber, you don’t need to worry about the bomb.”

Cohen joined U.S. Sen. Jack Reed and U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, U.S. Rep. James R. Langevin, Gov. Donald L. Carcieri, Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts, URI President Robert L. Carothers, Center Co-Director Jimmie Oxley, URI professor of chemistry and co-director of its Forensic Science Partnership, and members of various military and law enforcement agencies in the launch.

Being named a center of excellence in explosives research adds to URI’s reputation as a world leader in the field, with the governments of Israel and the United Kingdom and U.S. agencies such as the FBI, Department of Defense, and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms relying on URI expertise for the past 15 years. In addition, international and national media make Oxley their first call when they need expert commentary on an attack involving explosives.

Carcieri applauded the University for its leadership role. “The launch of this Center of Excellence burnishes the University of Rhode Island’s reputation as a national asset in science and technology,” noted Carcieri. “In addition, the enriched training for science teachers, which is included in this project, is an extremely valuable tool to enhance science education for students of every age.”

Oxley has assembled a nationally and internationally renowned team for the research and education project that will enhance teacher training in science in kindergarten through high school, undergraduate and graduate science education at participating universities, and stimulate explosives research in the areas of detection, mitigation, response and characterization.

In addition to Oxley, the research team at URI is comprised of Arun Shukla, Simon Ostrach Professor and chairman of mechanical engineering and applied mechanics; James Smith, professor of chemistry; William Euler, professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry and a co-director of the Sensors and Surface Technology Partnership at URI; Hamouda Ghonem, professor of mechanical engineering; Otto Gregory, professor of chemical engineering who co-directs the sensors partnership; and Carl-Ernst Rousseau, associate professor of mechanical engineering. URI technical leads Shukla, Smith and Euler will aid Oxley and Northeastern Co-Director Michael Silevitch, professor of electrical and computer engineering, in overseeing research at California Institute of Technology, New Mexico State University, Hebrew University, and Soreq Nuclear Research Center in Israel, as well as Northeastern University partners at Texas Tech University, Washington State University, and Missouri University of Science and Technology.

The URI researchers will be working with 21 graduate students at the outset, and by next summer Oxley hopes to have two Rhode Island elementary or secondary schoolteachers working in the laboratories of each of the URI researchers.

Carothers said by establishing such a center at URI and Northeastern, Undersecretary Cohen and the Department of Homeland Security have recognized the groundbreaking interdisciplinary and international work at the two universities.

“This award speaks to URI’s ability to bring diverse researchers with wide ranging perspectives and expertise to bear on significant societal issues and crises,” said Carothers. “We thank Undersecretary Cohen and the Department of Homeland Security for recognizing URI’s global leadership in this arena. We also take great pride in the work of Dr. Oxley and her colleagues who have brought distinction to URI in the research discipline of explosives, energetic materials and pyrotechnics for the past 15 years. Because of her and her team’s work, our world is becoming a safer place.”

Oxley said all of the members of her team are already involved in leading research in the field. “But we have assembled these scientists to maximize their talents to deal with homemade bombs and improvised explosive devices as a threat to safety around the world,” she said. “Look at the outstanding groups we have to work with leading research into security and counter-terrorism.”