Magazine article National Defense

Delaware Valley Firms, Labs Vie for Federal R&D Dollars

Magazine article National Defense

Delaware Valley Firms, Labs Vie for Federal R&D Dollars

Article excerpt

Laboratories, universities and defense contractors in the Delaware Valley region are seeking to collaborate on a growing number of defense and homeland security projects.

The Delaware Valley-which includes New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland-is home to many high-tech firms, universities, military research agencies and laboratories. In an increasingly competitive environment for federal research and development dollars, the region's political leaders believe that the four-state area is ideally suited to generate innovative products for the U.S. military and for homeland security.

Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa) is an enthusiastic promoter of the technical capabilities of the region. He sponsors an annual conference, called Tech Trends, recently held in Baltimore, Md. "This year, we have less resources and more needs, so it's important that we encourage institutions like those here to work together, to do better work, so that we give a better and higher quality product for the troops, but also in a more cost-effective manner," he told National Defense.

Technologies exhibited at the 2002 conference ranged from nuclear detection devices, soybean-derived fuels, soldier systems research advances to military ships.

Nuclear Detection

To address a growing concern regarding the contraband of illegal nuclear devices, a Princeton, N.J., laboratory is working to develop a miniature nuclear detection system.

"We realized that we could differentiate between various radio nucleides-materials that are unstable, that emit radiation," said Charles Gentile, head of tritium systems at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. Various radionucleides have distinct energy spectra, and one can identify its nuclear signature, which is basically a fingerprint of that material, Gentile said.

Plasma physics is the practice of using plasma for the production of energy. Plasma is a type of matter that is neither solid, liquid or gas-rather, it is the state in between solid or liquid and gas, Gentile explained. The ability to differentiate nuclear signatures could be helpful for homeland security, he said. "We live in an area where there are all nuclear materials going up and down the New Jersey turnpike for peaceful purposes." He noted that certain nuclear devices are legal, such as those used to treat cancer and radiography equipment for industrial purposes.

Current technology-the Geiger counter-detects radiological materials, but does not distinguish between legal and illegal devices. "We want (a nuclear detection device) to differentiate authorized nuclear materials from unauthorized nuclear materials," Gentile said.

A Dirty Bomb

"We don't want an alarm (to ring) when we see one kind of spectrum, but say we saw a spectra of a transuranic, which would be indicative of a weapon, a dirty bomb, uranium or plutonium. That's what our device would actually scan for. ... Say you're at the entrance of a tunnel, or bridge or any kind of portal where there's a natural choke-point for traffic. There are maybe hundreds of people and packages. We don't want to stop everyone. But if we detect something with a different signature, it could alarm silently, take a picture of the vehicle, or alarm in some way, and notify the proper authorities.

"Right now, we have a conceptual design.

One part of it we use in demonstrations. We don't have a full system in place, that is why we need additional funding, to build and test a full system," Gentile said.

Another technology on display at Tech Trends was natural diesel fuel made from soybeans. "It makes more sense for us to get our energy from the Midwest than from the Mideast," said Mike Orso, a United Soybean Board spokesman. "Why should we depend on such an unstable part of the world when we can depend on American farmers for our energy?" he asked.

The Defense Department is the largest single purchaser of soybean-derived fuel, or biodiesel, said Jenna Higgins, a spokesperson for the National Biodiesel Board. …

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