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PNNL's Thomas recognized with national honor for homeland security work

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October 13, 2009 Share This!

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RICHLAND, Wash. — Jim Thomas, a chief scientist and Laboratory Fellow at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, has won the prestigious Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation 2009 Homeland Security Award for his work creating computerized visual analytics technology that can be used to predict and prevent acts of terrorism or other catastrophic events. 

The award, which is sponsored by AgustaWestland North America, Inc., also comes with a $25,000 prize.

In naming Thomas its 2009 winner, the foundation noted Thomas has been recognized internationally for his work, including transferring technology to the marketplace, and has served as a science advisor to government agencies, and academic and industrial institutions.

Thomas was specifically recognized for his leadership of the Department of Homeland Security's National Visualization and Analytics Center, which is located at PNNL.  NVAC was established in 2004 to provide scientific guidance and coordination for the research and development of new tools and methods that DHS has identified as required for managing, visually representing, and analyzing enormous amounts of diverse data and information.  Development of these visualization tools enables analysts to more effectively identify signs of terrorist intent or attacks in their earliest stages and ultimately to prevent terrorist plots before they occur.

While visual analytics is being used to detect, predict, prevent and respond to acts of terrorism, the emerging scientific field also has a broader role to play beyond homeland security, says Thomas. 

"Visual analytics can be used wherever there's a need to sort through a staggering amount of information or complex data, or where there's a need to uncover hidden relationships within the data," he said.  "It helps you detect the expected and discover the unexpected."

"For example, emergency responders and health officials can use visual analytics to reduce effects of natural disasters, companies and government organizations can protect against cyber attacks and it can be used by customs, law enforcement and other officials to improve public safety."

"Jim has had the rare opportunity to be the leader in developing the new science field of visual analytics," said Kimberly Owens, foundation chair.  "Jim has been instrumental in crafting collaborative agreements between the United States, Canada and Germany, and he has inspired degree and certificate programs so future generations will carry on the work he has begun."

Thomas will be honored at an Oct. 13 evening ceremony in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Congress established the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation in 1992 to "encourage and support research, study and labor designed to produce new discoveries in all fields of endeavor for the benefit of mankind."  Each year, the foundation honors American citizens who improve the world through scientific endeavors.  Since 2003, the foundation has awarded Homeland Security Awards to citizens or companies "that are making a measurable and constructive contribution related to basic and/or advanced research in the area of homeland security which will result in a significant and positive benefit to society."  Recipients are selected from hundreds of nominations and are chosen by a panel of science, policy and other experts.

Thomas is the fourth PNNL staff member to be recognized by the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation.  In 2007, Doug McMakin won the foundation's Homeland Security Award for his leadership in developing a security system that detects concealed metallic and nonmetallic items and is being used globally for security at borders, airports and other facilities.

In 2004, PNNL's Aaron Diaz was named one of four Columbus Scholars for his scientific research and engineering developments that led to advanced ultrasonic nondestructive examination measurement, imaging and analysis technologies.  The work resulted in the Acoustic Inspection Device, which is used by custom officers at ports of entry and by other law enforcement officials for counterterrorism and drug interdiction activities.

In 2001, Richard Craig received the Christopher Columbus Foundation Award and a $100,000 fellowship for his work on the Timed Neutron Detector, which quickly and inexpensively locates metal and plastic landmines by recognizing the presence of hydrogen in mine casings.

Tags: National Security, Operations, Staff Appointments

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