Island University Research is Explosive!

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Airport security is one of the most critical areas of safety in our nation – an area that two Island University researchers are directly impacting.

Electrochemistry is the branch of science Dr. Nicolas Holubowitch, assistant professor in the Department of Physical & Environmental Sciences, and Gray Medina, a senior biochemistry major, are utilizing to develop a novel method of sensing explosive compounds in our nation’s airports.

“We’re looking to create a portable, inexpensive smart swab electrochemical sensor, which quickly identifies the presence of energetic materials,” said Holubowitch. “This will also allow for more accurate forensic analysis in the field and safer airports, sporting events, concerts, and festivals, while not holding up lines at security checkpoints.”

The duo traveled to Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, this summer to work alongside Dr. Stephen Beaudoin on a research initiative from the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Awareness and Localization of Explosive-Related Threats (ALERT) Center of Excellence. Both Holubowitch and Medina participated in a 10-week Summer Research Team Program for Minority Serving Institutions.

Holubowitch extended this research opportunity to Medina – one of his brightest undergraduate students in the instrumental analysis lab he teaches. This was a wonderful opportunity for Medina, who was shocked when Holubowitch reached out to him with the offer to participate.

“You could say my excitement was ‘explosive,’” said Medina. “It was amazing to be in a research environment talking with people who were trying to answer tough questions and working one-on-one with Dr. Holubowitch. I looked forward to every day as a chance to discover something new.”

Crunching data in a lab setting while working hand-in-hand with other scientific minds at a university that conducts high level research is an experience that is invaluable for students, says Holubowitch.

“This was a great opportunity for Gray to get some undergraduate research under his belt and see how research gets done at a big school like Purdue,” said Holubowitch. “It was a whole new environment where he got to collaborate with top researchers and I’m certain the experience will open doors for him going forward.”

Ultimately, Holubowitch and Medina found a promising solution during their research – molecularly imprinted conductive polymers as sensing materials – and plan to continue their work back home at the Island University.

“I want to continue making a national impact, so I’m building a research lab for sensing a wide array of hazardous compounds in order to establish a long-term relationship with DHS and the ALERT Center of Excellence,” said Holubowitch. “The goal is to create a top lab capable of testing new devices and designing next-generation sensing materials towards counter-terrorism efforts, thereby making our country a safer place.”