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March 20, 2003

Homeland security experts

Purdue University has many researchers working in areas related to homeland security and several centers dedicated to these areas of research. Here are some examples of this work:

Purdue creating homeland security institute

Purdue is creating a new Homeland Security Institute that will tap the expertise of about 150 Purdue researchers - from physicists to philosophers ‹ who are working in areas related to homeland security.

The institute's objectives will be based on the national strategy for homeland security. Those objectives are focused into six "critical mission areas:" intelligence and warning, border and transportation security, domestic counterterrorism, protecting critical infrastructure, defending against catastrophic threats, and emergency preparedness and response. The institute's director is Dennis Engi, head of Purdue's School of Industrial Engineering.

The Purdue Homeland Security Institute will create teams of researchers to tackle specific types of terrorist threats. Researchers are proposing to create and oversee new academic programs in which students would earn degrees with a specialization in homeland security, learning about the threats and opportunities associated with globalization. The degree programs would be developed for all levels, from undergraduate to doctoral students. The students would earn degrees in their respective fields but would take specialized courses related to homeland security in areas of research ranging from engineering to veterinary medicine.

CONTACT: Dennis Engi, (765) 496-7757, engi@ecn.purdue.edu.

Sending hidden Internet messages

Edward J. Delp, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, is an expert in digital watermarking, or steganography, a procedure in which hidden patterns are embedded into an image or document on the World Wide Web. The patterns can then be used to verify the image as authentic, protecting intellectual property rights for people who create digital media. The same digital watermarking, however, might be used by terrorists to embed hidden messages into images or documents. Digital media can be screened for hidden terrorist messages by using "steganalysis."

CONTACT: Edward J. Delp, (765) 494-1740, ace@purdue.edu.

Nanoparticles could aid in biohazard detection

Nanotechnology could make life tougher for terrorists, reports a Purdue research team.

"We have found a way to connect the interior of a computer with the biological world," said Jilian Buriak, associate professor of chemistry.

Buriak led a group that has found a rapid and cost-effective method of forming tiny particles of high-purity metals on the surface of advanced semiconductor materials such as gallium arsenide.

The scientists also have learned how to use these nanoparticles as bridges to connect the chips with organic molecules. Biosensors based on this development could lead to advances in the war on terrorism.

"It is possible that this discovery will enable chips similar to those found in computers to detect biohazards, such as bacteria, nerve gas or other chemical agents," she said.

A related news release is available at http://news.uns.purdue.edu/uns/html4ever/021211.Buriak.nanoparticle.html.

CONTACT: Jilian Buriak, (765) 494-5302, buriak@purdue.edu.

Software simulates terrorist attacks

The Purdue eBusiness Research Center is working toward the development of an effective homeland defense program for Indiana.

Researchers have developed "synthetic environments," programs that help to predict how millions of people might react to situations ranging from a terrorist attack to product marketing. In a demonstration, several hundred thousand people and various government agencies were represented as "synthetic agents," all interacting as they likely would during a real attack.

Purdue and Indiana University ran the simulation by linking their IBM supercomputers in a "computational grid" via the universities' high-speed optical network, called I-Light, which enables the exchange of large amounts of information. The work is funded by the National Science Foundation and Indiana's 21st Century Research and Technology Fund.

CONTACT: Alok Chaturvedi, associate professor in the Krannert School of Management, (765) 494-9048, alok@purdue.edu.

Purdue Extension focuses on plant and animal security

Agroterrorism is one of the many concerns officials must confront in the battle against terrorism.

In light of that, Purdue University Extension and the Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN) are working with state and federal officials to focus on plant biosecurity measures and information. Purdue also is coordinating the national EDEN Homeland Security Project.

The Purdue Plant and Pest Diagnostic Laboratory is connected to a network of diagnostic labs that share information on disease outbreaks, which would be vital in the event of a widespread attack. In Indiana, the Board of Animal Health, in cooperation with Purdue's Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, has a system for alerting authorities and the public in the event of an animal disease outbreak

CONTACTS: Steve Cain, EDEN Homeland Security Project disaster communications specialist, (765) 494-8410, cain@purdue.edu; Gail Ruhl, director of the Plant and Pest Diagnostic Laboratory, (765) 494-4641, ruhlg@purdue.edu; Leon Thacker, Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory director, (765) 494-7448, thackerl@purdue.edu.

Emergency personnel need statewide communication system in case of attack

Homeland security experts from the state of Indiana and Purdue University are working with emergency personnel to develop a statewide communication system to be activated in the event of a terrorist attack.

Law enforcement, fire and health care officials need an integrated system that will inform them of the nature of terrorist attacks and provide critical information about where and how to respond, said Dennis Engi, head of Purdue's School of Industrial Engineering and director of the Purdue Institute for Homeland Security. A major challenge will be to create a statewide network that enables various agencies and departments to share information without compromising the security of each individual system.

CONTACT: Dennis Engi, (765) 496-7757, engi@ecn.purdue.edu.

Dogs, cats play role in biosecurity

Just as miners used canaries to detect lethal gas, dogs and cats could be the first creatures to alert America to a biosecurity attack.

Larry Glickman, professor of epidemiology and environmental medicine at the Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine, in collaboration with colleagues at Purdue and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has begun a study using a national pet health database to assess whether dogs and cats are sentinels that could provide early warning for terrorist-related attacks.

"We are developing analytical techniques that, when used in a timely way, could signal a terrorist attack," Glickman says. "This approach is intended to complement, not replace, human medical record-based surveillance systems currently under development and give practicing veterinarians a key role in the war on terrorism."

Glickman is working with Banfield Pet Hospitals on the design of this Purdue-based pet surveillance system, called the VMD-SOS, which stands for Veterinary Medical Data-Surveillance of Syndromes.

Banfield Pet Hospital, with approximately 300 veterinary hospitals located in 43 states, electronically records health information for the approximately 60,000 cats and dogs seen each week in their practices.

"Every night that information is processed, and with the right programming we could be alerted to an anthrax or plague outbreak in cats or dogs," Glickman says. "Every night the clinical and laboratory information on these pets is sent electronically to a central data warehouse. With the right computer programming and statistical analysis, this information will allow us to detect terrorist attacks related to the use of chemical or biological agents, such as anthrax or plague. Public health officials could be notified before they might otherwise be by human health surveillance systems, which tend to be more regionalized and less standardized."

Researchers at Purdue have previously used veterinary hospital records of dogs and cats, together with information obtained from owners, to identify environmental causes of cancer in pets.

CONTACT: Larry Glickman, (765) 494-6301, ltg@purdue.edu.

Purdue labs work to develop sensors for homeland security

Purdue scientists and engineers are working to develop advanced sensors for detecting hazardous chemical, biological and nuclear materials. The research is included in the Integrated Detection of Hazardous Materials Program, a Purdue-U.S. Navy project initiated in August 2000. The program is managed jointly by the Center for Sensing Science and Technology at Purdue and the Naval Surface Warfare Center's Crane Division in Indiana.

The program includes the following research:

  • Graham Cooks, a professor of chemistry, is heading a project to create portable, lightweight sensors that use mass spectrometry, a technique for identifying chemical and biological agents in the air. The aim is to develop extremely sensitive instruments capable of quickly detecting - without false alarms - only a few parts of a hazardous substance per billion parts of air. New sensors based on this technology might be ideal for use at airports and public buildings, providing advance warning of an attack by sensing tiny quantities of agents before they are actually unleashed. The instrument, a miniature ion trap mass spectrometer, has been studied and improved in the Purdue lab for more than 15 years.

  • An interdisciplinary Purdue team, led by electrical engineer Supriyo Datta, chemist Clifford Kubiak and physicist Ronald Reifenberger, has shown that "a chemical binding event" can alter the electrical conductivity of an individual molecule. Chemical engineer Ronald Andres and electrical engineer David Janes are using this insight to develop extremely sensitive devices capable of detecting molecules. The technique works by measuring changes in electrical conductivity caused when a contaminating substance sticks to a gold surface that has been coated with molecules that attract the contaminant. The coating is made of molecules that attach to the gold because they contain sulfur, which forms a chemical bond with the metal. When a foreign molecule falls onto the gold surface it sticks to the attractive molecules, changing the electrical conductivity, which can be measured with a device called a scanning tunneling microscope.

  • Chemistry Professor Fred Regnier is leading a research team that is focusing on using ³smart bioadhesives" to selectively trap targeted biological threats, which are subsequently identified using special pattern-recognition software. The experimental sensor technology uses chips covered with numerous microscopic squares. Some of the squares, which are so small that 10 of them could fit across the width of a human hair, can be coated with antibodies that attract a specific biological agent, such as anthrax. Pattern-recognition software would be used to recognize if spots were beginning to form on the squares containing the antibodies, setting off an alarm. The chips in the sensors could then be removed and taken to a lab to be analyzed. The researchers have developed a process in which rubberlike "stamps" are used to manufacture chips, perhaps leading to a method for producing inexpensive sensors. These stamps are coated with a solution of antibodies, just as a printing stamp is coated with ink, and then used to produce numerous chips. The goal is to devise a method to manufacture sensors affordable enough to be placed by the thousands in public places, much like the ubiquitous smoke detector. Sensors based on the same technology might have several important public-health applications, as well.

  • Chemistry Professor Scott A. McLuckey is conducting research in the use of proteins as "biomarkers" for identification of toxins, viruses and bacteria. Working with an ion trap mass spectrometer, scientists can locate the "fingerprint" of proteins. This fingerprint - and the organism from which it was derived ‹ can then be identified through a protein database. McLuckey is one of the founders of Beyond Genomics Inc., a company focusing on the discovery of disease markers and drug receptor candidates. The company is developing advanced mass spectrometers for drug companies.

    CONTACTS: Graham Cooks, (765) 494-5263, cooks@purdue.edu; Scott McLuckey, (765) 494-5270, mcluckey@purdue.edu; Ronald Reifenberger, (765) 494-3032, reifenbr@purdue.edu; Supriyo Datta, (765) 494-3511, datta@purdue.edu; David Janes, (765) 494-9263 ,  janes@ecn.purdue.edu.

    Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu


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