Research and Development

  • Scientific research, budget cuts, and DHS

    The FY2011 budget of DHS’s Science & Technology Directorate (S&T) is $827 million; this year the administration’s budget proposal raised it to $1.2 billion; a measure passed by the House last week cut S&T’s FY2012 budget by 52 percent relative to the current budget — to $398 million; DHS said the cuts would stall development of technologies for border protection, detection of bio-hazards, cargo screening, and seriously disrupt research into domestic IED detection, leaving mass transit vulnerable to attacks; as we consider this dramatic cut, we should accept three things: first, the growing national debt is a threat to the well being of the United States and its security, and must be addressed; there are only two ways to address the debt issue: the government must reduce spending, or it must take in more money, or both; second, every government program must be thoroughly examined to see whether there is a justification to continue it — or continue it at the current level of funding; homeland security programs should not be exempt from such an examination; third, reasonable men and women may differ on the relevant issues: what is the nature of the homeland security threats the United States is facing; what are the best — and most cost effective — ways to meet these threats; can every last research initiative at S&T be convincingly justified?

  • Researchers unveil biometric walk scanner

    Researchers from the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom recently unveiled new biometric technology that is capable of identifying individuals by the way they walk; a professor in computer vision at the School of Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton, and two PhD students have developed a system that can recognize a person by their gait with over 90 percent accuracy; individuals walking through a “biometric tunnel” were recorded on twelve cameras to create a unique signature that can be used to identify them later; researchers tried to fool the system by wearing different clothes, obscuring their faces with hats and motorcycle helmets, but the biometric system prevailed

  • Cost-effective way to produce solar thermal hydrogen fuel developed

    The U.S. Department of Energy is investigating novel approaches for solar thermochemical water splitting — that is, splitting water into its gaseous components, hydrogen and oxygen — to produce hydrogen, with the eventual goal of commercializing production; DOE’s cost targets set hydrogen production in 2015 at $6 per kilogram and hydrogen delivery in 2025 at $2 to $3 per kilogram.; and innovative technology, using thin-film metal ferrite process, developed by University of Colorado Boulder researchers is projected to meet both benchmarks

  • New sensor detects minute traces of explosives

    MIT chemical engineers develop a new sensor that can detect minute traces of explosives; the new sensors would be more sensitive than existing explosives detectors — those commonly used at airports, for example — which use spectrometry to analyze charged particles as they move through the air

  • New insect repellant may be thousands of times stronger than DEET

    The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been supporting a major interdisciplinary research project to develop new ways to control the spread of malaria by disrupting a mosquito’s sense of smell; as part of the project, Vanderbilt University researchers developed an insect repellant which is not only thousands of times more effective than DEET — the active ingredient in most commercial mosquito repellants — but also works against all types of insects, including flies, moths, and ants

  • Bill prohibits joint U.S.-China scientific activity

    Language inserted into the 2011 spending bill would prohibit any joint scientific activity between the United States and China that involves NASA or is coordinated by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP); Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Virginia), the author of the prohibition, says: “China is spying against us, and every U.S. government agency has been hit by cyberattacks —- They are stealing technology from every major U.S. company. They have taken technology from NASA, and they have hit the NSF computers. —- You name the company, and the Chinese are trying to get its secrets”

  • OSU chemist developing solution to nerve agent exposure

    Scientists are working to develop a new drug that will regenerate a critical enzyme in the human body that “ages” after a person is exposed to deadly chemical warfare agents; the drug will counter the effects of Tabun, VX, VR, Sarin, Soman, Cyclosarin, and Paraoxon, all of which take on a similar molecular structure upon aging

  • Budget cuts will hamper U.S. outbreak response

    Public health advocates are criticizing the Obama administration’s 2012 budget request for cutting funding from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) emergency preparedness and core disease prevention programs; advocates believe that these cuts will seriously hamper the ability of the United States to respond effectively to large disease outbreaks or a biological terrorist attack; since 2005 funding for these programs has been reduced by nearly 30 percent, and in 2008 more than 20,000 public health jobs have been cut while thousands of workers have had their hours reduced; GAO reports warn that the federal government needs to strengthen its abilities to respond to pandemics, bioterrorism, and natural disasters

  • Universal flu vaccine within sight

    People need to be vaccinated against flu every year because the flu virus is a scam artist: it uses a big, showy surface protein — and there are sixteen different varieties of this protein, called Hemagglutinin (HA) — to attract your immune system, then changes it so your immune system would not recognize it next time round; vaccines must thus change yearly to match it; scientists discover HA’s Achilles Heel: a vital part of the HA’s viral machinery does not vary much over time or between viruses, meaning that a vaccine based on the this part would be a universal flu vaccine

  • T cells offer new promise for vaccines for plague and bacterial pneumonias

    There is currently no licensed plague vaccine in the United States, which is too bad because Yersinia pestis is arguably the most deadly bacteria known to man; most of the plague vaccine candidates that have been studied aim to stimulate B cells to produce plague-fighting antibodies, but animal studies suggest that antibodies may not be enough to protect humans from pneumonic plague; new studies show that T cells can also fight plague — and may be better candidates with which to develop a plague vaccine

  • Enzyme provides protection against nerve gas

    Nerve agents disrupt the chemical messages sent between nerve and muscle cells, causing loss of muscle control, and ultimately leading to death by suffocation; protection against nerve gas attack is a significant component of the defense system of many countries around the world; nerve gases are used by armies and terrorist organizations, and constitute a threat to both the military and civilian populations, but existing drug solutions against them have limited efficiency; a multidisciplinary team of scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, succeeded in developing an enzyme that breaks down nerve agents efficiently before damage to nerves and muscles is caused

  • Twelve research teams to develop persistent-stare, visual-intelligence systems

    The U.S. military anticipates a significant increase in the role of unmanned systems in support of future operations, including jobs like persistent stare; by performing persistent stare, camera-equipped unmanned ground vehicles would take scouts out of harm’s way; these machines’ truly transformative feature will be visual intelligence, enabling these platforms to detect operationally significant activity and report on that activity so warfighters can focus on important events in a timely manner

  • Closing of U.K. forensics research centers triggers protest

    The U.K. government announced that the Forensic Science Service — a leading research center based in Birmingham, United Kingdom — will be closed by 2012 because of budgetary reasons; law enforcement leaders and scientists calls on the government to reconsider the decision, saying that “The reputation of forensic science in the U.K. will undoubtedly diminish —- The lack of research means that we will be lagging behind the rest of the world, and justice will suffer”

  • U.S. will carefully watch, but not regulate, synthetic biology

    White House commission says biologists can engineer custom organisms from synthetic genomes, with the government watching but not regulating the research; critics claim synthetic biology will create unnatural organisms likely to wreak havoc on the larger ecosystem if they got loose in the wild — to say nothing of the risks of bioterrorists using design pathogens; self-regulation, say the critics, is equivalent to no regulation

  • Border-security crisis boosts Tucson's economy

    An economic boost for Arizona city from the border crisis; with the University of Arizona, and some fifty companies already involved with border security in some way, Tucson’s future could hold more high-tech, high-paying jobs; research firm MarketResearch.com concludes that worldwide spending on border security products and services will reach $15.8 billion in this year alone