WPI Graduate Student Jason Cox Receives U.S. Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal For Research in IED Detection Technology

Media Contact
September 02, 2008

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WORCESTER, Mass. – Sept. 2, 2008 – Sgt. Jason Cox, a Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) graduate student and native of Southborough, Mass., is the recipient of the United States Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal. Cox received the award in July 2008 for his work on countering improvised explosive devices (IEDs).  

In addition to being a graduate student at WPI, Cox is an alumnus of the university; he obtained a B.S. in chemistry in 2005, having maintained a 3.8 grade point average. It was that year, just two months into his first year of graduate work, that Cox, a five-year reservist in the U.S. Marine Corps (Alpha Company 1st Battalion 25th Marine Regiment), was called to duty in Iraq. During his seven-month tour in Fallujah, he served as a fire team leader and was required to be in the turret of Humvees, which were often exposed to IEDs. In the Iraq War, IEDs have been extensively used against coalition forces; they are also known as “roadside bombs,” which are detonated when vehicles or pedestrians pass by.

With his chemistry background and training in WPI’s labs, Cox recognized that infrared spectroscopy could be useful in detecting and identifying an IED from 250-meter distance. He conducted extensive research while maintaining a rigorous combat patrol schedule to validate the usefulness of the technology in detecting IEDs. He subsequently designed a simple but elegant and life-saving device that is built based on the pattern recognition of IED feed-in wires through the differences in thermal expansion.

"Cox’s initiative, perseverance, and total dedication to duty reflected credit upon him and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service," stated Lt. Col. B.L. Sulc, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve commanding officer, 1st Battalion, 25th Marines, on his award certificate to Cox.

The device Cox researched allows the military to image triggering systems for roadside bombs. These triggers are almost impossible to see with the naked eye or current imaging techniques. Coming up with the idea was a combination of luck and optimization, according to Cox, who recognized the utility of infrared imaging. It took time, however, to integrate the device into a platform that was combat ready. The device would not have been finished if it were not for the hard work of other Marines in his squad, Cox said. Together, they shared ideas, and, ultimately, created a system that allowed detection of victim-initiated IEDs. 

"Jason is still being thanked by his colleagues who are currently in Iraq, and who continue to use this device," said Venkat R. Thalladi, WPI’s assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and Cox’s thesis advisor. "I am proud to point out the unique talents of this young man: he recognized a critical problem, and found a solution to the problem in an effortless manner by seemingly simple means. Jason is an emerging multi-disciplinary chemist."

 Cox assembled his findings into a presentation that he gave to his commanding officers in September 2006. This resulted in the inclusion of his data in a proposal to buy forward-looking technology that specifically addresses the area Cox identified. Because of Cox’s research, the U.S. Marine Corps will purchase a system similar to Cox’s design to detect these bombs. This technology is expected to contribute measurably to counter IED tactics. 

"I am just one of thousands of young service men and women who do amazing things on a daily basis while overseas," said Cox. "I’m proud that I could contribute to a device that will ultimately save lives. In terms of recognition, I would rather recognize the United States Marine Corps Reserve as a whole. These are men and women, with very fulfilling civilian lives, who are separated from their lives and loved ones to answer the call to duty. They need to be recognized for their sacrifice and hard work."

Currently a Worcester resident and a new father, Cox has resumed his graduate work in chemistry at WPI and is working toward a PhD at the university, where he won the first-place award for Life Science at GRAD 2007, an annual poster competition at WPI. He plans to continue his military service.

The Boston Globe, Worcester Telegram and the Worcester Business Journal have reported on Sgt. Cox's research.