Partnership puts Hopkins nanobio innovations and students to work

Picture of John SchmidtJohn C. Schmidt. Credit: Northrop Grumman.

INBT Industrial Affiliate: Northrop Grumman

Launching the careers of its students and finding the best application for the innovations developed in its laboratories are two top priorities for John Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT). Toward this end, INBT builds relationships with industry through its mutually beneficial Industrial Affiliates Program, which engages students in challenging research and provides a potential marketing pipeline for technologies created in INBT labs. The nation’s third largest defense contractor, Northrop Grumman, has been an INBT Industrial Affiliate since the Institute was founded in May 2006.

“Northrop Grumman needs people that can help us take the lead in the next generation of technologies that will support defense and homeland solutions,“ says John C. Schmidt, director of Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosive (CBRNE) Defense and Enterprise Technical Executive at Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems (NGES). NGES, one of the company’s four business areas, is headquartered in Linthicum, Md., and has locations worldwide with more than 20,000 employees. Along with electronic systems, Northrop Grumman also has business areas in information and services, aerospace, and shipbuilding. (See Fast Facts for details on each area.)

Opportunities abound at NGES for all types of engineers and scientists, especially those with skills in chemistry, physics, and biology, Schmidt says. And because INBT trains its graduate students to be well-versed in several disciplines in addition to their primary area of research, Schmidt says, they are particularly attractive to employers like Northrop Grumman.

Cross-trained Students Make Breakthroughs

“INBT’s students are not focused on only one field but they can talk at a detailed level on many fields,“ he says. “That means they can they draw from more than one discipline to create solutions to the most demanding problems.“

Schmidt began his professional career as a biologist and chemist, but in 1994 earned a PhD in materials science and engineering at Johns Hopkins in the laboratory of Professor Peter Searson, now INBT’s director. Before joining Northrop Grumman, Schmidt developed and now holds patents for the technology found in several chemical-biological detection systems, including those used by airports to detect explosives and the U.S Postal Service to detect substances such as anthrax. The skill to create that technology, he says, came from understanding the fundamentals of a wide array of disciplines.

“Most of the biggest breakthroughs that I have made in my career have come from taking a material and applying it in a different way. That requires a thorough understanding of more than just one field,“ Schmidt says.

Using Nano to Combat Bio-Threats

Even before there was concern about biological threats such as anthrax, Northrop Grumman scientists and engineers were working to develop sensors that function at the nanoscale to detect as few as just one atom of a chemical or biological threat.

“Nanotechnology has the potential to decrease the operating costs yet improve the performance of so many technologies,“ Schmidt says. For example, Northrop Grumman is using nanotechnology in the development of next-generation amplifiers on a DARPA program, and well as for the development of future detectors for nuclear materials and biological agents. DARPA stands for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 2001, the efforts of those working on deterrents to biological threats have become decidedly more focused, Schmidt says. The company takes pride in its innovative products, such as the Fire Scout, an unmanned aerial vehicle that can hover like a helicopter and can be outfitted with many different types of sensors to detect potential threats. “People here are proud that they are contributing to defense,“ Schmidt says.

Work in this realm is fast pace, Schmidt says, with most chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives related projects turning over in just five years. “It is vital that we work with newly trained graduates. We can provide them with many exciting opportunities in state of the art facilities for internships and careers,“ Schmidt says. “Terrorists are not lazy and they are not dumb, so we need the best and brightest to counter that threat.“

For more information about Northrop Grumman, please visit their web site at www.NorthropGrumman.com

INBT Industrial Affiliates pay a fee based on company size and in exchange gain access to JHU research facilities, student profiles, workshops and symposiums. Students may conduct research in collaboration with INBT faculty and Industrial Affiliate researchers. For more information on INBT’s Industrial Affiliate Program, go to http://inbt.jhu.edu/corporatepartnership.php.

Northrop Grumman: Fast Facts

3rd largest defense contractor

$70 billion backlog of contracted projects

120,000 employees worldwide

Main business areas:

  • Information & Services: mission communications, control and command
  • Electronics: design, development and manufacture of advanced electronics and sensors for military, civil and commercial use
  • Aerospace: develops a broad range of systems at the leading edge of space, defense, and electronics technology
  • Shipbuilding: nuclear-powered, ships and submarines

Story by Mary Spiro

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