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NDEE Grad Student Accepts IC Fellowship

Leslie Lestinsky • DATE: June 26, 2019

NDEE PhD candidate, David Benirshcke has just accepted an esteemed post-doctoral fellowship.

The Intelligence Community Postdoctoral Research Fellowship Program is managed by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education under an agreement between the Intelligence Community (IC) and the U.S. Department of Energy. It was established in 2000 to support unclassified basic research in areas of interest to the IC.

David Benirschke in lab
NDEE PhD candidate, David Benirschke demonstrates explosive detecting sample.

Benirshcke’s PhD research focused on infrared-based explosive detection. He worked to engineer a spotlight in the mid-infrared, capable of detecting explosive residue on objects. This work was sponsored by Awareness and Localization of Explosive-Related Threats (ALERT).  

ALERT is a multi-university, Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence. The Center’s charge is to conduct transformational research, as well as technology and educational development for effective response to explosives-related threats.

David Benirschke in lab 5
NDEE PhD candidate, David Benirschke working with spectroscopy equipment in NDEE professor Scott Howard's lab to do laser research with possible applications in explosive detection

“David did not only engineer robust experimental prototypes, but also was able to harness a deep theoretical understanding of the problem,” said Professor Scott Howard, Benirshcke's PhD advisor. “He’s an exceptionally curious researcher. I’m encouraged by the potential of his future work,” said Howard.

As Benirshcke pursues the fellowship, he will be working with research advisor and NDEE professor, David Burghoff, to utilize a different, newer type of laser source called a frequency comb.

"I thought David's background in explosive sensing would be a perfect fit for this program and my research,” said Professor Burghoff. “I’m excited to have him join our lab."

David Benirschke in lab 3
Traditional lasers used in Benirschke's PhD research.

When working with a traditional laser, one wavelength of light–or color–is used. An interferometer–or FTIR–is used to see multiple wavelengths or color. Moving parts are also a necessary component of the research in order to distinguish the different colors from each other.

When using a frequency comb, all this same research can be done in solid state. Moving parts are not necessary and researchers can get multiple wavelengths simultaneously, with the benefit of using a high-powered laser versus broadband sources.

Frequency comb
Frequency comb technology


This work paves the way for more sensitive, accurate, faster, and more cost-efficient sensing technology. Also, because this work is done in solid state, it uses much less power and is significantly smaller. It could, for example, be affixed to drones to be flown over natural gas pipelines and monitor for leaks.

Frequency combs are the next step in advanced spectroscopy technology. It has the potential to be commercialized and serve the safety of the general public.