The Labs That Go Boom: The DHS Center of Excellence Destroys IEDs

Learning to stop bombmakers--even before an explosion goes off

Fire in the Hole

Fire in the Hole

A mixture of gunpowder and coffee creamer explodes at the University of Rhode Island.JJ Sulin

This month, as part of our special on the future of education, PopSci_ presents 10 labs where students do serious research (and career training) by blowing stuff up._

Lab: DHS Center of Excellence for Explosives, Mitigation and Response at the University of Rhode Island
Career: FBI explosives expert, government defense contractor

Car bombs, improvised explosive devices and pipe bombs—for students at the University of Rhode Island's energetic materials lab, those tools are as common as a hammer is to a carpenter. The lab, run by chemist Jimmie Oxley and supported largely by the Department of Homeland Security, offers the most diverse explosives curriculum in the U.S.

And many of the students who study there will advance to jobs on the front lines in the fight against criminals and terrorists.

Big Bang
Big BangJJ Sulin
CSI RI

CSI RI

Students use ultraviolet light to locate residues from a pipe bomb.JJ Sulin

Students typically build their explosives in the lab, then transport them to a firing range on a 2,200-acre site 30 minutes from campus. There, they test new detection methods and blow up their devices to study what happens during and after a blast. They also analyze chemicals used in bomb construction, such as hydrogen peroxide, and test chemical additives that could reduce or eliminate the utility for bombmakers. Occasionally they assist Oxley in less dangerous pursuits: They help her advise television shows based on forensic science, including CSI and Curious and Unusual Deaths.