POTSDAM - Amidst fingerprint molds, cameras and voice recorders, Clarkson students and faculty are making the world a bit more secure.
With more of the electronic world being controlled by biometric verifiers such as fingerprints, voices and faces, technologies to measure, monitor and identify people are being developed for a wide variety of commercial and security applications. Recent biometrics research at Clarkson has led the National Science Foundation to designate Clarkson the lead site for its Center for Identification Technology Research (CITeR), one of the foundation's industry/university cooperative research centers.
"The National Science Foundation is one of the main basic research funding agencies in the United States," said Stephanie A. Schuckers, the head of CITeR and an electrical and computer engineering professor at Clarkson. "I think to have the designation associated with the National Science Foundation is an honor for Clarkson, and that provides visibility in the community. We certainly want to do our part by providing a good product for that visibility, and we believe that the cooperative model allows a way to build long-term relationships between the university and those other organizations because it provides a platform for conversation."
CITeR, which was founded at West Virginia University in 2001, conducts interdisciplinary training for scientists and engineers as well as research on emerging technologies at several sites across the country. At Clarkson, students and faculty focus not on developing biometric recognition software but also on anticipating and preventing vulnerabilities and security breaches within those software programs.
As a CITeR cite, Clarkson will benefit from funding from industry and government organizations, which will in turn help decide which research projects are pursued. According to Ms. Schuckers, the collaborative research structure differs from traditional one-on-one partnerships between academic and industry, allowing for more integration among various groups' interests.
"Usually when we present ideas of what research we'd like to see as individual faculty members in the center, we have to take into account what our affiliates are interested in seeing," said Ms. Schuckers said. "We're interfacing with our affiliates to see what are they working on, what are they interested in, what's their future, what are their problems. Then we integrate in the sense that one person here is interested in this and another person here is interested in this, if I can kind of put them together, I could have a winning project. Multiple affiliates benefit when we do a project."
In addition to developing software to recognize faces, irises, fingerprints and voices, the Clarkson researchers are collecting anonymous benchmark data sets from the campus community and sharing the information with other researchers. They also take care test their own systems - for example, by making fingerprints on a variety of fake materials and then trying to use the models to beat security measures - and license their software to NexID Biometrics LLC, a company in Clarkson's small business incubator that can then disseminate the technologies more broadly.
Although the college does not yet offer degrees in biometrics, the ongoing projects can fill a number of roles for graduate and undergraduate students: paid work, research credits, degree requirements and even honors theses. The affiliated faculty and students - about eight professors, several graduate students and 10 undergraduates - tend to work in fields such as electrical, software and computer engineering as well as math and computer science, but they specialize in biometrics.
"We train students through our projects," Ms. Schuckers said. "If a project's funded, we'll hire students - graduate students, undergraduates, postdocs - to support the project. They will get that direct knowledge of that project that was defined by the organizations, and when they graduate can go and work in those organizations. That's the long-term goal, to produce a stronger workforce."