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Making Biochemical Threat Detection More Economical

The University of Houston recently received funding from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to conduct research on making biochemical threat detection economically sustainable.

The contract is part of the SenseNet program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of the Interior on behalf of the DHS Science and Technology Directorate. The goal of this award is to design and implement faster, more autonomous, less expensive bio-threat detection systems.

“We will explore both technical and market-based innovations to lower the cost of threat-sensing solutions,” said Christoph F. Eick, principal investigator and associate professor of computer science.

The goal of the SenseNet project is to develop multi-tiered, multi-component aerosol detection sensor systems, where biological and chemical detection sensors leverage new commercial systems. The hope is that the resultant architecture will make it possible to map contamination in real time, convey information to multiple layers of decision makers and operate in a cost-effective manner.

This research is aimed at enabling an alternative, market-based approach to BioWatch, which is the federal government program created in 2001 to detect biological attacks through a network of sensors.

The detection systems the researchers plan to develop will employ state-of-the-art cloud computing, sensor networks, modelling, data analytics and alarm management technologies.

The research seeks to widen the customer base for environmental sensors and threat detection services. In addition to acting as an early biochemical threat detection system, these sensors are being used to provide better security, energy usage, air quality and early warning capabilities. Consequently, the project will investigate the use of low-cost biological and chemical aerosol and particle sensors that can be used to provide benefits not only to the DHS, but also to other entities, such as universities, shopping malls and airports.

The project will be conducted in three phases with a total planned budget of $1.8 million for a three-year period. The research team is currently working on Phase I for which they received the initial $480,000 to design the SenseNet computational infrastructure. Phases II and III center on the implementation and commercialization of the infrastructure.

“The research team is committed to tackling critical scientific challenges that are of great public interests to make our society safer, more secure and create an environment where the community can thrive, prosper and learn from past experience,” Eick said. “In the long run, our goal is to make communities more resilient in dealing with environmental and other threats. This is an area that has recently become a major focus of research in the Department of Computer Science.”

The project, titled “Networking and Computational Infrastructure for Collecting and Interpreting Sensor Data with Respect to Aerosolized Chemical and Biological Threats,” will be a multidisciplinary effort.

The project is managed by the Chemical and Biological Defense Division of DHS.

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