• Preventing intentional or accidental creation of synthetic biological threats

    Battelle has been awarded a contract by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) to develop threat assessment software to help prevent the creation of dangerous organisms. Using predictive algorithms, the software would be able to determine the suspected function of a DNA fragment based solely on its sequence. It would be used to screen DNA sequences to determine whether the sequence is related to any known organisms, predict the function of unknown sequences, and assign a threat level based on the potential for harm. By screening and characterizing genetic sequences before they are synthesized, the software would enable the end user to vastly reduce the risk that biological threats will be created either intentionally or accidentally.

  • Energy-efficient encryption for the internet of things

    Most sensitive web transactions are protected by public-key cryptography, a type of encryption that lets computers share information securely without first agreeing on a secret encryption key. Public-key encryption protocols are complicated, and in computer networks, they’re executed by software. But that won’t work in the internet of things, an envisioned network that would connect many different sensors — embedded in vehicles, appliances, civil structures, manufacturing equipment, and even livestock tags — to online servers. Embedded sensors that need to maximize battery life can’t afford the energy and memory space that software execution of encryption protocols would require. Special-purpose chip reduces power consumption of public-key encryption by 99.75 percent, increases speed 500-fold.

  • Running out of water: Cape Town, the U.S., and drought

    The recent news that Cape Town, South Africa—a modern city of nearly 4 million residents (plus over 1.5 million tourists yearly)—was on the brink of running out of water, the taps about to run dry, put water back into the headlines. After years of drought in several American states, could this happen closer to home? “The current crisis in Cape Town will almost inevitably repeat itself elsewhere,” says an expert. “Because of geography, many cities in the United States and the world are highly or entirely reliant on local precipitation. In California, for example, most of the Central Coast, including Monterey and Santa Cruz, currently depend on local rainfall. Given climate change, moreover, droughts in the arid regions of the world are likely to become more frequent and more severe. Warmer temperatures, moreover, will raise evapotranspiration rates—increasing agricultural water needs and the amount of stored water lost to evaporation.”

  • Students to help DHS S&T tackle air travel security issues

    Students from James Madison University (JMU) will be tackling air travel security issues for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) as part of their spring semester of the Hacking 4 Defense (H4D) class. The H4D team will look for innovative approaches that will enable the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to be able to associate passengers with their personal belongings.

  • Cape Town water crisis highlights a worldwide problem

    The water supply is running dry in Cape Town, South Africa. The city’s reservoirs are shrinking as a three-year drought wears on. If it doesn’t rain soon, the drought could bring South Africa’s second most populous city to its knees. Cape Town residents are adapting as best they can. They are skipping showers and finding new ways to conserve and reuse their meager allowance of 50 liters (13 gallons) per person per day. That allowance may soon be cut in half, too. As soon as April or May, Cape Town could reach “Day Zero,” when the city will shut off the taps in homes and businesses. Residents will need to line up at collection stations to gather their water rations. Only hospitals, schools, and other essential services would still receive piped water. If things continue on in this way, Cape Town is in danger of becoming the world’s first major city to run entirely out of water. How can this happen in a city of four million residents? And what other cities may be at risk?

  • Spotting IEDs from a safe distance

    Landmines, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and other homemade bombs struck 6,461 people worldwide in 2015, killing at least 1,672. Survivors are often left with devastating injuries. In a study published in BMJ Open, 70 percent of people hit by IEDS in Afghanistan required multiple amputations. These homemade bombs are often hidden—nestled in bushes, buried underground, or sometimes stuffed inside other objects. To keep soldiers away from these deadly weapons, researchers are developing technology that can spot explosive hazards precisely and from a safe distance.

  • A quantum leap for quantum communication

    Quantum communication, which ensures absolute data security, is one of the most advanced branches of the “second quantum revolution.” In quantum communication, the participating parties can detect any attempt at eavesdropping by resorting to the fundamental principle of quantum mechanics — a measurement affects the measured quantity. Thus, the mere existence of an eavesdropper can be detected by identifying the traces that his measurements of the communication channel leave behind. The major drawback of quantum communication today is the slow speed of data transfer, which is limited by the speed at which the parties can perform quantum measurements. Researchers have devised a method that overcomes this speed limit, and enables an increase in the rate of data transfer by more than 5 orders of magnitude.

  • Comparing pollution levels before and after Hurricane Harvey

    Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall in late August 2017, brought more than 64 inches of rain to the Houston area, flooding 200,000 homes, 13 Superfund sites, and more than 800 wastewater treatment facilities. As disasters become more frequent and populations living in vulnerable areas increase, interest in the health effects of exposure to the combination of natural and technological disasters has grown. A new study examined concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) before and after Hurricane Harvey in the Houston neighborhood of Manchester. Manchester, which is located near refineries and other industrial sites along the Houston Ship Channel, is a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood where residents face disproportionate health risks due to pollution and other environmental hazards.

  • With glaciers disappearing, will water become scarce?

    There are around 200,000 glaciers worldwide. They play a central role in the water cycle, particularly in the middle and low latitudes, by offsetting runoff fluctuations. Rivers are lifelines on which billions of people depend worldwide, either directly or indirectly. The world’s largest rivers begin in glaciated mountain regions. Climate change may cause many glaciers to disappear. Will water become scarce? Will the Alps, the Himalayas, the Rocky Mountains and the Andes continue to act as water towers? Climate change is a global problem with local consequences. If the international community succeeds in restricting the temperature rise to an acceptable level via contributions from each individual member, the effects may be mitigated. Many glaciers would still shrink significantly even with major climate protection efforts, but the consequences for water resources would be more moderate.

  • Epigenetic technology to help in fight against WMD proliferation

    Intelligence officers in the field, in trying to determine the presence or use of WMDs, would benefit from being able to check the epigenetic markers of an individual who may have come into contact with WMDs, read a history of any time he has been exposed to threat agents, and start piecing together a chain of evidence right there in the field, in real time. The epigenome is biology’s record keeper. Though DNA does not change over a single lifetime, a person’s environment may leave marks on the DNA that modify how that individual’s genes are expressed. DARPA’s new Epigenetic CHaracterization and Observation (ECHO) program aims to build a field-deployable platform technology that quickly reads someone’s epigenome.

  • Putting statistics into forensic firearms identification

    When a gun is fired, and the bullet blasts down the barrel, it encounters ridges and grooves that cause it to spin, increasing the accuracy of the shot. Those ridges dig into the soft metal of the bullet, leaving striations. At the same time that the bullet explodes forward, the cartridge case explodes backward with equal force against the mechanism that absorbs the recoil, called the breech face. This stamps an impression of the breech face into the soft metal at the base of the cartridge case, which is then ejected from the gun. Researchers have developed a statistical approach for ballistic comparisons that may enable numerical testimony – similar to a DNA expert expressing the strength of the evidence numerically when testifying about genetic evidence.

  • Keeping the lights on if the world turns to 100% clean, renewable energy

    Researchers propose three separate ways to avoid blackouts if the world transitions all its energy to electricity or direct heat and provides the energy with 100 percent wind, water, and sunlight. The solutions reduce energy requirements, health damage, and climate damage. “Based on these results, I can more confidently state that there is no technical or economic barrier to transitioning the entire world to 100 percent clean, renewable energy with a stable electric grid at low cost,” says one researcher.

  • Massive reserves of mercury hidden in permafrost hold significant implications for human health

    Researchers have discovered permafrost in the northern hemisphere stores massive amounts of natural mercury, a finding with significant implications for human health and ecosystems worldwide. The scientists measured mercury concentrations in permafrost cores from Alaska and estimated how much mercury has been trapped in permafrost north of the equator since the last Ice Age. Their study reveals northern permafrost soils are the largest reservoir of mercury on the planet, storing nearly twice as much mercury as all other soils, the ocean and the atmosphere combined.

  • Salvage yard as a source for rare-earth elements

    As the United States seeks a stable domestic supply of rare-earth elements – essential to high-tech instruments and electronics – researchers are looking to the salvage yard to see what might be lurking under the hoods and in the doors of light-duty cars and trucks. Rare-earth elements (REEs) are not scarce but scattered, meaning they typically can’t be found in economically exploitable concentrations. They have become increasingly sought after, however, since they are used in high-strength magnets, electric motors, and consumer goods like laptops, tablets and cellphones. A single smartphone can contain nine rare-earth elements alone.

  • Cape Town water crisis should serve as a “wakeup call to all major U.S. cities”: Expert

    Cape Town, South Africa is hurtling towards a water apocalypse with “Day Zero” — when authorities will turn off the taps — pegged for the first half of April. The crisis, which has placed the city in peril, was caused by years of draught, insufficient and aging infrastructure, and population growth. To find out what this means for Cape Town residents and if a similar disaster could strike Phoenix, ASU Now turned to Dave White, a professor in the School of Community Resources and Development, a unit within ASU’s College of Public Service and Community Solutions and director of Decision Center for a Desert City.