An Article from the February 2003 JOM-e: A Web-Only Supplement to JOM

Toni Marechaux is director of the National Materials Advisory Board in Washington, D.C.
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Conference Review: Homeland Security

JOM-e: Issues and Opportunities in Homeland Security

Toni Maréchaux


EDITOR'S NOTE: During the 2002 TMS Fall Meeting in Columbus, Ohio, the symposium Opportunities and Issues in Homeland Security was cosponsored by The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society and ASM International. The speakers' slides from several of the presentations were collected and converted to into portable document format (PDF) files for viewing as this month's JOM-e.

A series of presentations at the TMS 2002 Fall Meeting highlighted issues and opportunities in homeland security. The terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11 revealed vulnerabilities in many areas of U.S. infrastructure, and some of these revelations brought to light needs for advances in materials science and engineering. One example is airplanes and buildings that need to be more resistant to fire, blast, and penetration. Other technological needs, including filtering and decontamination, were discovered when anthrax was found in the U.S. mail. Both of these incidents also highlighted new challenges in scanning and sensing technologies for detection of explosives and chemical/biological agents, and in forensics to determine the source of those detected materials.


To begin the meeting, Duncan Moore discussed the trends and opportunities in federal funding for science and technology. Moore, a professor of optical engineering at the University of Rochester, was the assistant associate director for technology in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy during the Clinton administration. Moore was the distinguished lecturer in Materials and Society at the meeting.

Moore began by describing the differences between broad-spectrum funding and initiative-based funding. He pointed out that gaining even inflationary increases in broad-spectrum funding is difficult, and the general argument that science and technology are “good” has proven ineffective in expanding budgets quickly.

An alternative strategy that was successful in recent years is to direct new funding into science and technology by advocating initiative-based funding. The best example of this strategy is the formation of the National Nanotechnology Initiative, which received more than $700 million in federal funding in 2002. Although it has been estimated that 40% of the funding for the nanotechnology initiative has gone toward existing research, it remains that universities and national laboratories received approximately 65% of the nanotechnology initiative funding.

Moore described the characteristics of a successful initiative. First, a new initiative must define grand challenges. These challenges are something you can state in 30 seconds that everyone understands, as in a bumper sticker. An example of this is the promise for nanotechnology to produce a material ten times as strong as steel at a fraction of the weight. However, to be truly successful, the initiative must tie benefits that people can understand to these scientific advances. To continue the example, stronger materials can lead to improved body armor for law enforcement agents, which can save lives.

Another keystone for successful initiative funding is a strategy to establish a research infrastructure. This may include the creation of centers of excellence and networks of excellence across the country, which can help to establish broad political support. Finally, before setting off on this course, the initiative must address and understand the ethical, legal, and societal implications of the promised new technology, as well as workforce and training issues.

Other examples of potential successful initiatives include looking at technologies for successful aging. A grand challenge for such an effort would be to develop technologies to allow people to live independently ten years longer. The application of technology to other social needs is a valid foundation for new initiatives.

Moore concluded with some comments on education. He noted that only 22% of Americans hold a baccalaureate degree. In addition, of the approximately 3 million K–12 teachers in this country, about 2 million are leaving or retiring in the next ten years. This means about 200,000 new teachers are needed every year, and unfortunately, the United States doesn’t graduate that number. The supply of science and math teachers, especially in rural and urban areas, is currently inadequate. One suggestion has been to supplement the needed teachers with science and engineering professionals. Consider, however, that only about 3,600 physicists graduate every year in the United States. Even if this were a viable solution, it cannot address the entire problem. In the end, it is up to all of us to encourage our neighbors and friends, and their children, to a higher level of technological literacy.


To open the discussion on homeland security, Toni Maréchaux noted a recent report from the National Research Council of the National Academies called “Making the Nation Safer: The Role of Science and Technology in Countering Terrorism.” The report was published in July 2002 and is available at The study was conducted by a distinguished committee, with eight subpanels that addressed the topics of nuclear and radiological threats; human and agricultural health systems; toxic chemicals and explosive materials; information technology; energy systems; transportation systems; cities and fixed infrastructure; and the response of people to terrorism.

The report describes some general principles and strategies to make the nation safer. These are topics that any R&D strategy should consider:

The report names seven urgent research opportunities. The first three are only peripherally related to materials science and engineering: develop effective treatments and preventions for known pathogens for which current responses are unavailable and for potential emerging pathogens; develop, test, and implement an intelligent, adaptive electric-power grid; advance the practical utility of data fusion and data mining for intelligent analysis; and enhance information security against cyberattacks.

However, the remaining four of these urgent research opportunities have a strong focus for materials:


The next part of the program focused more specifically on the potential for increased research and technology development in the area of homeland security.

Al Romig described the role of the national laboratories during 50 years of defending the nation at home and abroad. Romig is the vice president for science and technology and partnerships and chief technology officer at Sandia National Laboratories. His presentation focused on the national security laboratories, which have been at the forefront of the war against terrorism. These are the Los Alamos National Laboratory, founded in 1943, the Sandia National Laboratory that spun out of the Los Alamos lab in 1949, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, founded in 1952.

One of the roles of the national security laboratories is to provide the U.S. government with the technology and expertise required to aid in preventing the spread and use of weapons of mass destruction. As a result, large multidisciplinary teams have been developing sophisticated technologies for prevention of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; for verification of arms-control treaties; for detection of bioagent and chemical warfare agents; and for prevention of the proliferation of nuclear and radiological materials and weapons.

The laboratories were first chartered to carry out nuclear technology development and also launched the first nonproliferation satellites. This surveillance and expertise in related technologies has led to work for the U.S. intelligence community; all of these have led to offense, defense, and national policy activities. But, while the national laboratories have been at the forefront of this fight, the stakes today are very high, and bold new science and technology initiatives will be required in order to minimize these threats and ensure a peaceful future.

All of the laboratories received calls within hours of the events on September 11. Many technologies were deployed, some within hours, to address the threats. Some technologies developed by the laboratories have been used for assessment of damage levels, others to help mitigate the damage, and still others for forensic analysis after a terrorist attack. The laboratories have developed and trained rapid response teams for several years to respond to nuclear incidents, and this training was very useful during the events after September 11.

Sensor technologies are some of the biggest contributions from the laboratories. Sensors being developed today can detect a wide range of chemical, nerve, and biological agents. For example, the laboratories set up systems to sense water and air in Salt Lake City during the 2002 Winter Olympics. Decontamination technologies are also needed after a chemical or biological attack that alleviate the threat yet do not damage people, materials, or electronics.

Protecting the U.S. mail is a particularly difficult challenge. Romig described the rapid response that laboratories had to a request from the U.S. Postal Service. After some intense analysis of available detection technologies, irradiation was selected as the best strategy. Historical data at Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos on the response of biological systems to radiation was quickly applied, and Sandia engineered and deployed the system. Although it is not the best response, as it still entails delays and damage to some items, it is in place and working today.

Because investments had been made over the past 50 years, the national laboratories were able to respond very quickly to a threat to U.S. homeland security. Without that continued investment, the needed technologies would not have been ready on September 12.


Lewis Sloter, of the Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Science and Technology), discussed counterterrorism, materials research and engineering, and their associated planning, challenges, and opportunities, defined some of the terms in use by the Department of Defense (DoD) and the media.

Antiterrorism efforts, he said, are the defensive measures used to reduce the vulnerability of individuals and property to terrorist acts, to include limited response and containment by local military forces. Acts of counterterrorism are offensive measures taken to prevent, deter, and respond to terrorism. Combating terrorism encompasses actions, including antiterrorism (defensive measures taken to reduce vulnerability to terrorist acts) and counterterrorism (offensive measures taken to prevent, deter, and respond to terrorism), taken to oppose terrorism throughout the entire threat spectrum.

Force protection is defined as the security program designed to protect soldiers, civilian employees, family members, facilities, and equipment, in all locations and situations, accomplished through planned and integrated application of combating terrorism, physical security, operations security, personal protective services, and supported by intelligence, counterintelligence, and other security programs.

The DoD Counter-Terrorism Technology Task Force was initiated by the director, defense research & engineering. The duration of the first phase was September 2001 to February 2002. The stated objective was to rapidly identify, prioritize, and integrate DoD science and technology initiatives to help combat terrorism. Working groups were established
in four areas:

Sloter described several technical challenges with materials science and technology overtones including a need for rapid schemes for wide-area inspection and detection in open areas and inside containers; technologies for prevention and mitigation of fires, blast, and penetration; and personal protection equipment that is lighter, more flexible, and more breathable. Other needs include rapid, inexpensive, and reliable sensors, schemes to defeat or contain devices and agents, and forensics for physical and material identification, attribution, and assessment.

These materials science and technology issues provide a framework of opportunities. Advances in characterization, for example, are needed in acoustic tomography, automating advanced image analysis, and clever agent collection strategies. Improvements in structure and properties could be applied to macroblast resistance, less costly filters by design, and functional, operational, or heuristic sensors. Finally, needs in systems integration include integrating sensors and diagnostics, keeping architecture open, and assessing prospective scenarios. Sloter also described the Technical Support Working Group (TSWG). The TSWG is the U.S. national forum that identifies, prioritizes, and coordinates interagency and international R&D requirements for combating terrorism. The TSWG rapidly develops technologies and equipment to meet the high-priority needs of the combating-terrorism community, and addresses joint international operational requirements through cooperative R&D with major allies.

Engineers, when asked for solutions, tend to invent and suggest new technologies. Only rarely do engineers work toward the creation of a flexible system with technology options. A systems engineering approach that provides useful and applicable function is especially needed for effective homeland security.


Todd Stewart discussed the role of universities in homeland defense. Stewart has recently left the U.S. Air Force and now is the director of the program for international and homeland security at Ohio State University. Stewart, along with his coauthor, Jim Williams, the dean of engineering at Ohio State, began by noting that there is a cycle for terrorism and in coping with terrorism. In each step, there are more questions than answers. This indicates the need for research and study and leads to the role for universities.

Of the approximately $38 billion estimated as the first-year budget of the Department of Homeland Security, between $2.5 billion and $3 billion are estimated for R&D.

The appropriate role for universities in this hierarchy is the creation of new knowledge as well as the creation of product concepts. Universities can also play a role in the transition of science into solutions that are effective, practical, and affordable. Additionally, universities, of course, are key in the preparation of human capital to work in this field. Universities can be particularly useful in both intradisciplinary research and interdisciplinary research, which is specifically needed in this arena. The challenges to universities include potential changes in attitude and culture involved in working toward a new goal. Realigning resources is a related challenge, which means finding the right mix of people, facilities, equipment, and adequate budgets to do the necessary scientific research and technology development.

Additionally, universities will need to access and protect sensitive materials and information used in research and teaching. The many non-U.S. citizens among the ranks of both faculty and students complicate this. Other topics include protection of researchers both strategically and economically, and the publication of unclassified yet sensitive research results.

These issues further complicate collaboration within and among institutions.

Further, ownership and protection of intellectual property, especially during technology development and transfer, must be addressed.

Stewart summarized by stating that the role of universities in homeland security is a complex multi-faceted issue with many players at all levels. Certainly, universities have a major role, but full realization of that potential may require some cultural changes in our existing system.

Finally, all speakers agreed that improved homeland security would require strong partnerships on all levels.

For more information, contact Toni Maréchaux at National Research Council, 500 Fifth St. NW, National Materials Advisory Board, Washington, D.C., 20001; e-mail

Copyright held by The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society, 2003

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