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News Tip


September 22, 2003

For more information on these science news and feature story tips, contact the public information officer listed at (703) 292-8070. Editor: Josh Chamot

An Automatic System for Matching Dental Records

By matching bicuspid to bicuspid and filling to filling, forensic investigators use dental records to give a John or Jane Doe a real name. Researchers from West Virginia University, Michigan State University and the University of Miami are combining advanced image-processing techniques with elements of logic to accelerate and improve the accuracy of identity matches.

The researchers are working on an Automated Dental Identification System (ADIS) that will compare a database of dental x-rays with x-rays of an unidentified victim. Currently, the FBI's National Crime Information Center uses a text-based database with manually coded descriptions of an individual's teeth and jaw.

Supported by a National Science Foundation Digital Government award, the team is led by West Virginia University computer science professor Hany Ammar and includes professors Robert Howell at West Virginia, Anil Jain at Michigan State and Mohamed Abdel-Mottaleb at Miami, as well as FBI collaborators in the Criminal Justice Information Services division.

By using x-ray images directly, the system keeps the fine-grained details that are lost when humans do the coding and can spot underlying image structures that are difficult to assess by eye. Still, image-based searching presents new challenges. Most significantly, an x-ray image is affected by the position of the camera with respect to the head, unlike fingerprints inked directly onto a sheet of paper.

“There are ways to standardize the angle at which an x-ray is taken, but they are complicated and not all dentists’ offices would be able to apply them,” said team member Robert Howell, a professor of oral pathology at West Virginia. Central to ADIS is evaluation of the computer science techniques available for aligning images taken at different angles.

In addition, ADIS must apply a certain amount of expert logic. For example, ADIS has to understand, to some degree, which types of restorations—fillings, crowns and the like—could logically have happened since an earlier x-ray and which would be impossible. For example, a missing tooth cannot reappear in a later x-ray, but a broken tooth in an early x-ray could have been repaired or crowned.

From a large database of dental x-rays, ADIS will produce a short list of a few possible matches with a minimum of human intervention. The results will either contain the matching case or correctly return no matches when no match exists, with an error tolerance comparable to that of FBI’s fingerprint matching system. Human investigators will still make the final comparisons against the short match list.

NSF Media Contact: David Hart, 703-292-7737,

NSF Digital Government Program:

NSF Program Officer: Lawrence Brandt, 703-292-8980,
Principal Investigator: Hany Ammar, 304-293-0405 x2514,
Robert Howell, 304-293-2671,

ADIS match this pair of x-rays

ADIS match this pair of x-rays
The ADIS must match this pair of x-rays. The teeth match, but the images are flipped.
Credit: Robert M. Howell, DDS

ADIS match x-rays of the same teeth at a different angle

ADIS match x-rays of the same teeth at a different angle
In its most significant challenge, the ADIS must be able to match x-ray pairs in which one image shows the same teeth at a different angle, as in this pair of matching x-rays.
Credit: Robert M. Howell, DDS

ADIS detect when x-rays do not match

ADIS detect when x-rays do not match
ADIS must also detect when x-rays do not match, as in this case. One notable difference are the fillings, which appear as solid white spots in the left image.
Credit: Robert M. Howell, DDS

 Note About Images

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Engineers Unite to Protect the Environment, Draft Principles that Encourage Sustainability

ARLINGTON, Va.—Taking a proactive stance to address environmental concerns, leading engineers from business, academia, and government have united to draft principles to guide their trade.

Nine tenets of Green Engineering (below) were developed during a May 18-22, 2003, multidisciplinary conference entitled “Green Engineering: Defining the Principles” held in Sandestin, Florida.

Attendees from such diverse entities as the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, NSF, Siemans, and the Zero Waste Alliance defined green engineering as, “the design, commercialization, and use of processes and products, which are feasible and economical while minimizing generation of pollution at the source and risk to human health and the environment.”

The workshop was funded in part by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and organized by Dr. Martin Abraham, a professor of chemical engineering at The University of Toledo.

Draft principles were compiled by Nhan Nguyen, chief of the Chemical Engineering Branch of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Pollution Prevention & Toxics. Nguyen based his draft on the findings of more than a dozen academic, government, industry, and other organizations that promote environmental stewardship, with templates including the United Nations’ Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and the CERES (Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies) Principles.

Attendees modified the draft and established final principles that emphasized safety and environmental impact while still considering cost and performance issues. A summary report is available at the conference website:

Building upon their progress, attendees tentatively scheduled a second Green Engineering conference for 2005. The engineering umbrella organization Engineering Conferences International sponsored the May conference, and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and the Society of Automotive Engineers served as technical co-sponsors. The Environmental Protection Agency, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the American Chemical Society’s Green Chemistry Institute provided additional funds to support the conference.

The Green Engineering Principles with preamble and closing statement follow:

Green Engineering transforms existing engineering disciplines and practices to those that promote sustainability. Green Engineering incorporates development and implementation of technologically and economically viable products, processes, and systems that promote human welfare while protecting human health and elevating the protection of the biosphere as a criterion in engineering solutions.
To fully implement green engineering solutions, engineers use the following principles:

    1. Engineer processes and products holistically, use systems analysis, and integrate environmental impact assessment tools.

    2. Conserve and improve natural ecosystems while protecting human health and well-being.

    3. Use life-cycle thinking in all engineering activities.

    4. Ensure that all material and energy inputs and outputs are as inherently safe and benign as possible.

    5. Minimize depletion of natural resources.

    6. Strive to prevent waste.

    7. Develop and apply engineering solutions, while being cognizant of local geography, aspirations, and cultures.

    8. Create engineering solutions beyond current or dominant technologies; improve, innovate and invent (technologies) to achieve sustainability.

    9. Actively engage communities and stakeholders in development of engineering solutions.

There is a duty to inform society of the practice of green engineering.

NSF Media Contact: Josh Chamot, (703) 292-7730,

100 percent post-consumer waste recycled bottle
This image depicts a 100 percent, post-consumer waste recycled bottle produced by Phoenix Technologies of Bowling Green, Ohio.
Credit: Martin Abraham, University of Toledo; National Science Foundation

hydrogen fuel cells convert hydrogen and oxygen
Hydrogen fuel cells convert hydrogen and oxygen into electricity and heat, producing only water as waste.
Image courtesy of the Dana Corporation

hydrogen fuel cells convert hydrogen and oxygen
Hydrogen fuel cells convert hydrogen and oxygen into electricity and heat, producing only water as waste.
Image courtesy of the Dana Corporation

researchers install an experimental solar panel
Researchers with the Northwest Ohio Partnership on Alternative Energy Systems install an experimental solar panel.
Credit: Martin Abraham, University of Toledo; National Science Foundation

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NSF Grants Help Popular Science's "Brilliant 10" Define the Cutting Edge of Science

The September 2003 issue of Popular Science features the magazine's second annual PopSci Brilliant 10 list—10 scientists who are working in hybrid disciplines, defining new fields and whose work is "watched and admired (and certainly envied) by colleagues." The National Science Foundation (NSF) has supported seven of this year's Brilliant 10 in their pioneering efforts.

  • Stephen Quake of Caltech is working to create biological testing systems—microfluidic "labs" of channels, valves, pumps and detectors—etched onto a single chip (CTS-008649). His NSF CAREER award (PHY-9722417) supported investigations into polymer physics with DNA. He is also a co-principal investigator on several other NSF awards.
  • · Deborah Estrin of UCLA is director of the UCLA Center for Embedded Networked Sensing, a $20 million NSF Science and Technology Center established in 2002 (CCR-0120778). She is also a principal or co-principal investigator on several other NSF awards.
  • Tejal Desai of Boston University is a bioengineer who is developing various implantable medical devices. Her NSF CAREER awards (BES-9983840, BES-0242443) supported her studies of biomimetic interfaces for implantable microelectrical-mechanical systems (MEMS). NSF has also funded her to work on fabricating biological filters (ECS-9820829).
  • Erik Demaine of MIT pioneered "computational origami," esoteric mathematics with real-world applications such as unfolding a telescope lens in space, folding proteins and stowing air bags. NSF supported Demaine's postdoctoral fellowship (DMS-0102015), and he is now a co-PI on an NSF Information Technology Research award to design a network architecture that integrates millions of sensors (ACI-0205445).
  • Xiaohui Fan of the University of Arizona is a cosmologist who is studying the evolution of the universe. His NSF award is supporting an examination of data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey to find the most distant quasars in the cosmos (AST-0307384).
  • Michael Manga of the University of California, Berkeley, is a geophysicist who devises laboratory experiments to understand planetary evolution. His NSF CAREER award supported his studies of geological fluid mechanics (EAR-9701768), and NSF has funded his studies of magma flow prior to eruptions (EAR-0207471) and mantle dynamics in Earth-like planets (EAR-0124972), among others.
  • Sarah Tishkoff of the University of Maryland is an anthropologist whose NSF award allowed her to use the tools of molecular genetics to examine genetic variation among Tanzanian populations and shed light on East African history and modern human origins (BCS-0196183, BCS-9905396). An NSF-Sloan Foundation award (DBI-9626026) supported her postdoctoral fellowship.

NSF funds 10,000 new awards each year based on reviews of their scientific merit and broader impact on society. NSF awards have supported 123 Nobel laureates and have led to such developments as Doppler radar, the Internet, Web browsers and the Google search engine, American Sign Language, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ink jet printers and tissue engineering.

The NSF CAREER program, which has supported three of the Brilliant 10, recognizes research and education excellence by those teacher-scholars who are most likely to become the academic leaders of the future; NSF makes approximately 400 CAREER awards each year.

The other three members of the Brilliant 10 are medical researchers Victor Velculescu of Johns Hopkins University (human genomics) and Betty Pace of the University of Texas, Dallas (molecular medicine), and Sae Woo Nam, a staff scientist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (quantum cryptography).

NSF Media Contact: David Hart, 703-292-7737,

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