Browsing: Public Safety

If you’ve ever used a device that picks up signals over the air, you know that sometimes you just can’t get the signal to come in clearly. You point the device every which way, move it all around the room, do a little dance, but nothing seems to work. There doesn’t seem to be any explanation. Maybe it’s sunspots, who knows? While that’s an annoyance for us, sometimes people’s lives depend on that signal getting through. People like firefighters. One of my group’s more recent projects has been to help make sure that their signals get through, wherever they are. Like many people, I’m in awe of what firefighters do. With seemingly little regard for their own safety, they routinely…

The creation of a new material has long been either an accident or a matter of trial and error. Steel, for instance, was developed over hundreds of years by people who didn’t know why what they were doing worked (or didn’t work). Generations of blacksmiths observed that iron forged in charcoal was stronger than iron that wasn’t, and iron that was forged in a very high-temperature, charcoal-fired furnace and rapidly cooled was even stronger, and so on. While we’re still learning things about steel, we now have all kinds of recipes that we can use to make steels with different properties depending on the application, but those recipes took a lot of time, sweat and toil to develop. Wouldn’t it…

Legwarmers, preppies, yuppies, Molly Ringwald, nuclear paranoia … the 1980s were my favorite decade. I was in junior high school in New Jersey when I saw The Day After, a 1983 TV movie that depicted a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union. The focus of the movie, however, was not on the war but rather on the impact that the nuclear exchange had on everyday people. I remember watching the movie with my parents, being very scared, and thinking “Could this really happen?” Little did I know that 33 years later a series of interconnected events would have me answering related questions in nuclear forensics. In high school, I became interested in political science and international…

Although they are mass produced, every firearm is unique, and when fired, they leave unique markings called toolmarks on the bullet and cartridge casing. Law enforcement agencies have used these “fingerprints” to match firearms with bullets as part of their criminal investigations for more than a century. While forensic evidence of this kind wouldn’t likely be enough to get a conviction on its own, it has played a crucial role in linking suspects to crimes, and the ability of firearms examiners to make those matches has never been a source of controversy … until recently. In 2009, a report by the National Academy of Sciences questioned, among other things, the lack of objective methods for evaluating and identifying toolmarks. To…

I’m a dragon wrangler. While that might sound like something straight out of Harry Potter or Game of Thrones, this isn’t fantasy, this is serious science. As a dragon wrangler, or more colloquially, a fire researcher, my job is to help protect people and property from fire’s devastating effects. My area of expertise is wildfires, and in particular wildfires that threaten whole communities, which we call Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) fires. In the U.S. alone there are more than 80,000 wildfires every year. About 2 to 3 percent of those fires threaten populated areas, putting 46 million structures and over 120 million people at risk. And every year, we lose about 3,000 homes to these kinds of fires. The “Beast” wildfire…