Purdue News

February 14, 2005

Purdue faculty working to protect the homeland

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue University faculty members will talk about homeland security issues – including protecting the nation's power grid, food safety, developing advanced simulations, tracing documents and creating new types of sensors – during a series of presentations on Feb. 22.

Several faculty members will speak during the Homeland Security Technical Showcase, which runs from 1:30-3:30 p.m. in Stewart Center's Fowler Hall. The presentations, each lasting about 15 minutes, will be part of programs and events at Purdue coinciding with National Engineers Week, Feb. 20-26.

"Dozens of Purdue faculty members in many areas of research, including the sciences and engineering, are involved in homeland security-related work, both directly and indirectly," said Edward J. Delp, a professor of electrical and computer engineering and moderator for the technical program.

Michael Ladisch, Distinguished Professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering and Biomedical Engineering, will speak about a new type of sensor under development that incorporates natural proteins with electronic chips to rapidly detect a variety of toxins, including substances that might be used by terrorists, in food, water or the air.

"In this case, the proteins are antibodies that recognize specific toxins," Ladisch said. "This technology has much broader applications than homeland security because it will likely be used in many food processing and inspection operations to screen for pathogens and ensure the safety of our food supply."

He estimated the new "protein biochips" could be in commercial production within two years.

Lefteri Tsoukalas, head of the School of Nuclear Engineering, will talk about the need to prevent attacks against the nation's aging and increasingly vulnerable power grid.

"Terrorists could easily bring down the power grid," said Tsoukalas, who has led research to develop a system for averting power failures by automatically adapting to the daily fluctuations in electricity consumption.

The same sort of system also could protect against terrorism by quickly isolating the site of an attack from the rest of the power grid, he said.

"In recent years, as we have moved toward deregulation of the power industry, the power grid has become more decentralized, almost to the point where it is one huge continentwide machine," Tsoukalas said. "In the United States, we've got close to 2,000 power stations, small and large, 157,000 miles of transmission lines and a couple hundred million customers.

"But now all of these interconnections have made the grid more vulnerable to an attack and large brownouts due to accidents and failing equipment."

This vulnerability was seen in the summer of 2003 when a series of problems originating in Ohio led to widespread power failures in other parts of the nation that left about 50 million customers without power.

"We need to begin developing a system to protect against such events by embedding the grid with sensors and monitoring devices that alert us not only to such accidental events but also terrorist attacks," Tsoukalas said. "This system could automatically isolate affected areas while routing electricity to the rest of the grid."

Alok Chaturvedi, director of the Purdue Homeland Security Institute, will discuss complex computer simulations used to predict how terrorist attacks might unfold in a major metropolitan area.

"The purpose of computational homeland security is to determine the best course of action for law enforcement, emergency response agencies and other personnel to an unfolding crisis," said Chaturvedi, an associate professor in the Krannert School of Management. "If you do too much, you're in trouble. If you do too little, you're in trouble. The point is to determine what a measured response is in a crisis situation.

"We build a synthetic world and see what types of strategies are needed, in terms of preparedness, in terms of intervention, in terms of response and recovery – all the different actions we can take to protect our homeland."

Delp will discuss research he is leading to develop a method that will enable authorities to trace documents to specific printers, a technique law enforcement agencies could use to investigate counterfeiting, forgeries and homeland security matters.

Counterfeiters often digitally scan currency and then use color laser and inkjet printers to produce bogus bills. Forgers use the same methods to make fake passports and other documents. The technique uses two methods to trace a document: first, by analyzing a document to identify characteristics that are unique to each printer, and second by designing printers that embed individualized characteristics in documents.

Steve Beaudoin, an associate professor of chemical engineering, will talk about his research related to the development of new types of biological sensors with applications in homeland security.

"Our ongoing work is focused on optical-fiber based biosensors for the rapid diagnosis of a variety of diseases, and extensions of this work for the detection of biological weapons are very clear," Beaudoin said.

Such sensors might one day be snaked into a person's veins and arteries to quickly analyze the blood or could be used to detect toxins or organisms in the environment or drinking water supplies.

"If you imagine the need to rapidly screen a large number of people for exposure to a biological weapon or to determine if a water supply may have been contaminated with a biological weapon, then fast, accurate probes are very important," Beaudoin said. "This technology may allow one to quickly answer who needs to be quarantined, what treatments need to be applied and what regions need to be cleaned."

The presentations will be followed by a panel discussion on Feb. 24 during which national government and industry experts, including former nuclear weapons inspector David Kay, will talk about new technologies needed to protect America from terrorist attacks. Homeland Security: Engineering a Safer Tomorrow will begin at 7 p.m. in the Purdue Memorial Union's South Ballroom. The panel discussion kicks off a new TechChallenges Lecture Series.

John Sununu, former White House chief of staff, will moderate the panel discussion. Other panel members will be Kay, a former chief nuclear weapons inspector sent to Iraq by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations special commission overseeing the destruction of Iraqi weapons after the Gulf War in 1991, and who later served as head of the Iraq Survey Group searching for weapons of mass destruction after Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003; Sandy Berger, former national security adviser; Robert Crandall, former CEO of American Airlines; Reed Hundt, a technology expert and former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission; and cyberterrorism expert Jonathan Zittrain.

Purdue's College of Engineering is made up of 14 academic programs: aeronautics and astronautics, agricultural and biological, biomedical, chemical, civil, construction engineering and management, electrical and computer, engineering education, first-year engineering, industrial, interdisciplinary, materials, mechanical, and nuclear. More than 6,400 undergraduate students and nearly 2,500 graduate students are enrolled in Purdue engineering programs. In its most recent rankings, U.S.News and World Report magazine named Purdue the No. 8 undergraduate and graduate engineering program in the country, and many of Purdue's programs were ranked in the top 10 nationally.

Writer: Emil Venere, (765) 494-4709, venere@purdue.edu

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

Michael Ladisch, (765) 494-7022, ladisch@ecn.purdue.edu

Alok Chaturvedi, (765) 494-9048, alok@purdue.edu

Ness Shroff, (765) 494-3471, shroff@purdue.edu

Lefteri Tsoukalas, (765) 494-5742, tsoukala@ecn.purdue.edu

Stephen Beaudoin, (765) 494-7944, sbeaudoi@purdue.edu

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


Note to Journalists: Information about Engineers Week events is available online.


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