Navy, UH team up to detect biological agents, land mines

NSF grant establishes nanomagnetics research program in collaboration with Naval Research Labs

Detecting biological agents, developing land mine discovery techniques and improving computer memory durability are among the projects in which some University of Houston engineering students will be involved through the National Science Foundation-Navy Civilian Service Fellowship Program.

Through a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, the Nanoscale Interdisciplinary Research Team at UH's Cullen College of Engineering is collaborating with the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory and the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division to provide opportunities for a group of students in the electrical and computer engineering department to participate in joint research programs to study and develop technologies in the area of nanomagnetics.

Nanomagnetics looks at magnetic materials at the near-atomic level, encompassing devices and systems made of magnetic building blocks invisible to the naked eye.

To date, graduate students Barry Craver, Ariel Ruiz and Darren Smith were selected by the department to participate in the program. These students are pursuing research at UH during the academic year and will be interning throughout the summer at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., or the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division in China Lake, Calif. A mentor will be working with each student throughout their internships at these sites as part of this professional development program.

"Not only is this a great opportunity for the students, who may potentially receive job offers from these labs, but the collaboration also allows the college and university to work closely with Navy research and development centers," said Dmitri Litvinov, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at UH and principal investigator for the project. "We've placed three highly qualified students in the program who specialize in the designated research areas so far, and the prestige of this program will help us with our recruitment efforts."

Litvinov, along with Jack Wolfe, UH professor of electrical and computer engineering, pursued the program offered by NSF in an effort to expand collaborative research ventures with the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, one of the top research organizations in the nation. The research will be conducted at the Center for Nanomagnetic Systems at UH led by Litvinov as part of the Nanoscale Interdisciplinary Research Team.

Totaling more than $226,000 in direct costs, the NSF grant will support the fellowship and tuition-related costs for the students. The research will focus on the development of device structures, including nanomagnetic biosensors, magnetic random access memory (MRAM) and ultra-sensitive magnetic sensors for detecting land mines.

The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory is interested in development of the nanomagnetic biosensors that can be utilized for detection of biological warfare agents, such as anthrax, as well as for civilian applications, such as food and water safety monitoring. The lab also is interested in the development of low-power, non-volatile computer memory that can withstand the effects of ionizing radiation and severe electromagnetic pulses, the by-products of nuclear explosion.

The third project, in collaboration with the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, will focus on the development of a new high-sensitivity technique to improve land mine detection for U.S. military personnel while on foreign soil.

"The opportunity to work in collaboration with the naval laboratories is substantial," said Raymond Flumerfelt, dean of the Cullen College of Engineering. "The students and faculty members will benefit greatly from these joint research endeavors and play a significant role in developing technology that will ultimately have great impact."

Employing nanomagnetics has the potential to power the information age far beyond the roadmaps of the data storage and semiconductor industries.

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In addition to the research and educational benefits such a program provides participants, the Navy has scheduled biannual NSF-Navy Civilian Service Leadership symposia to help students with professional development.

About the University of Houston
The University of Houston, Texas' premier metropolitan research and teaching institution, is home to more than 40 research centers and institutes and sponsors more than 300 partnerships with corporate, civic and governmental entities. UH, the most diverse research university in the country, stands at the forefront of education, research and service with more than 35,000 students.

About the Cullen College of Engineering
UH Cullen College of Engineering has produced five U.S. astronauts, ten members of the National Academy of Engineering, and degree programs that have ranked in the top ten nationally. With more than 2,600 students, the college offers accredited undergraduate and graduate degrees in biomedical, chemical, civil and environmental, electrical and computer, industrial, and mechanical engineering. It also offers specialized programs in aerospace, materials, petroleum engineering and telecommunications.

For more information about UH, visit the university's Newsroom at http://www.uh.edu/newsroom/.

To receive UH science news via e-mail, visit http://www.uh.edu/admin/media/sciencelist.html.


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