Student demonstrating how explosives residue appears in blue lightWhenever terrorism rears its ugly head and explosives tear through innocent lives, URI Chemistry Professor Jimmie Oxley knows she’ll get dozens of calls from international media outlets seeking her insights. As the leading expert on the science behind explosive materials, Professor Oxley works closely with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies and governments around the globe to aid counter-terrorism efforts.

She’s the director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Center of Excellence in Explosives Detection, Mitigation, Response and Characterization here at URI. And alongside her students, she studies and tests explosives, energetic materials and the various common ingredients that could potentially be used to construct a bomb. Recent studies have included projects to make explosives safer for use in training bomb-sniffing dogs and testing a device that could detect bomb components hidden in one’s underwear.

But she’s not the only URI professor who’s helping to create a safer world.

Entomology Professor Thomas Mather has unleashed an extensive campaign to prevent tick bites and reduce the incidence of tick-borne diseases. For 20 years, he and his students have visited 60 sites around the state twice each summer to survey for ticks, and for the last two years in a row tick numbers have been at record levels.

His Tick Encounter Resource Center and “Get Tick Smart” campaign focus on providing simple and effective strategies for tick-safe living. “Our goal is to make tick-bite protection easy so you’ll actually do it,” he said. He’s also working on developing a Lyme disease vaccine, testing anti-tick products, and devising strategies for area-wide tick control.

Chemical Engineering Professor Otto Gregory is another URI scientist with safety at the heart of his research. As a leader in jet engine instrumentation and testing, his goal is to ensure that the engines on future aircraft can withstand the demands placed on them. For example, as the temperatures and stresses placed on jet engines are increased, there is a growing need to monitor engine performance in-situ so that structural models can be validated as engine components are pushed to their limits.  In URI’s newly created Center for Sensors and Instrumentation Research, Gregory and his colleagues develop new sensors for harsh environments to keep up with these demands.

“We develop non-intrusive ways of evaluating the integrity of jet engine components to determine if they can withstand the stresses, vibrations and temperatures seen during normal operation,” he said.

Students working in the cybersecurity lab at URIOur Digital Forensics and Cyber Security Center harnesses the resources of computer scientists and electrical engineers to help protect our nation’s citizens, digital information and network security from the ways criminals and terrorists can infiltrate our daily lives through our computers. The National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security have even selected URI as a national center of excellence for what some have called “our nation’s most serious security challenge.” Resources at the Center have been used to help the Department of Justice fight child pornography, develop ways to detect documents or images hidden in other digital documents, study the cyber security of the electrical grid, and work with local law enforcement agencies to assist in their investigations.

And then there’s Professor Manbir Sodhi’s research on distracted driving, Professor Donna Hughes’ fight for stronger laws to prevent sex trafficking, and ocean engineering professor Stephan Grilli’s efforts to protect coastal communities with improved tsunami prediction technology. And these are just a few example of how students and faculty at URI are creating a safer world.