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NEWS | March 6, 2024

NRL Researcher Awarded Grant to Study Nanotechnology Sensors

By Mary Hamisevicz, U.S. Naval Research Laboratory Corporate Communications

U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) research chemist, Braden C. Giordano, Ph.D., is the recipient of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Convergence Accelerator Grant.
Giordano, a member of a team led by the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University, St. Louis, was awarded the $650,000 grant for continued research incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) and nanotechnology into sensors capable of detecting explosive volatile organic compounds.
The team has been working for nearly two decades to harness the keen sense of smell of insects into a sensor that could be used to detect explosives and for use in other applications.
Barani Raman, professor of biomedical engineering and principle investigator at Washington University received the grant to develop this sensor. Giordano, who is the Associate Superintendent of the Chemistry Division at NRL, will lead test and evaluation efforts.
“For the last decade we have worked to develop trace explosives vapor generation and validation techniques to assist researchers in evaluating their sensors. We are excited for the opportunity to be part of the team,” said Giordano.
Using the information gathered from their research in developing bio-inspired sensors, the team plans to create an AI-enabled, nanoparticle-based ‘electronic nose’ device that can be used to gather and validate data. This portable proof-of-concept device would merge two ideas: a large, nanostructured chemical sensor array with diverse functions and the sensing and AI principles it has identified in the olfactory system of locusts. From the data collected, they plan to develop a library of known signatures for various explosive vapors at various concentration ranges. 
NRL’s role in this program is to leverage their years of experience in the generation and validation of trace explosive vapors to support the comprehensive evaluation of the chemical sensor arrays formulated in this program. Trace chemical detection and in particular the detection of explosives is of obvious concern to the Department of Defense.  NRL’s ability to support sensor developers during test and evaluation is critical to both understanding and improving performance metrics. 
The NSF Convergence Accelerator program addresses national-scale societal challenges through convergence research and seeks to transition basic research and discovery into practice to solve these challenges to align with specific research themes, including real-world chemical sensing applications.

Launched in 2019, the NSF Convergence Accelerator program invests more than $10 million in 16 teams to develop novel technologies and solutions to challenges posed by hazardous chemicals.

About the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory

NRL is a scientific and engineering command dedicated to research that drives innovative advances for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps from the seafloor to space and in the information domain. NRL is located in Washington, D.C. with major field sites in Stennis Space Center, Mississippi; Key West, Florida; Monterey, California, and employs approximately 3,000 civilian scientists, engineers and support personnel.
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