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Revesz assessed weapons, export controls during fellowship

UNL's Peter Revesz (front row, far left) is pictured with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other Jefferson Science Fellows.
UNL's Peter Revesz (front row, far left) is pictured with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other Jefferson Science Fellows.

Peter Revesz knows databases — both how to create them and efficiently draw data from within them. He never figured that expertise would be of use to the U.S. State Department and its international partners.

Revesz, a professor of computer science and engineering, is the first from UNL to earn a competitive U.S. Department of State/U.S. Agency for International Development Jefferson Science Fellowship. During the past year, he served in Washington, D.C., and abroad, helping assess if everyday technologies can be weaponized and strengthening international export control policies.

"I was an adviser for two offices within the U.S. State Department," Revesz said. "One was the Office of Export Controls Cooperation. The other was the Office of Conventional Arms Threat Reduction."

In the work for the Office of Conventional Arms Threat Reduction, Revesz helped review whether products available commercially could also be used as weapons. His focus was assessing software, particularly if it could be used to make autonomous moving vehicles. The project included writing briefs and participating in discussions at the Wassenaar Arrangement conference, in Vienna, Austria.

"The Wassenaar Arrangement is a group of advanced nations that work together to prevent certain technologies from falling into the hands of terrorists in countries that cannot produce these technologies," said Revesz. "I found the work fascinating, particularly the high level of technology I encountered."

The simplicity of some of the items regulated also amazed Revesz.

"I never thought of an electronic (remote) car opener as being a danger," he said. "But, they were adopted into the arrangement because they can be used to set off roadside bombs."

For the Office of Export Controls Cooperation, Revesz was able to focus on his expertise in databases.

The office is a border security program that partners with more than 60 nations to develop export regulations and enforcement capabilities. The office works to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and to meet international guidelines set by the United Nations.

As a part of the ECC assignment, Revesz gave database management presentations in Ukraine and Kenya.

"I met with customs officials and gave them a short course on database creation and data mining techniques," Revesz said. "Basically, I showed them how to search for and identify irregular patterns and assess the danger of illegal shipments."

Revesz returned to UNL in August. This semester, he is incorporating knowledge from the fellowship into his teaching. Revesz also plans to add a chapter on the experience into textbooks he has authored.

"This was an amazing experience," Revesz said. "And, I encourage all interested faculty to apply for the Jefferson Science Fellowship."

Jefferson Science Fellows work as consultants for one year in Washington, D.C., or in a foreign embassy or mission. Under the terms of the award, fellows can be called back as a consultant for up to five years.

Jefferson Science Fellows are selected by the National Academies — National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council.

UNL added its second Jefferson Science Fellow this year when Curtis Weller, professor of biological systems engineering, was selected to participate. His assignment started Aug. 15. The State Department said Weller's interest in cereal grain research and use, industry experience and familiarity with food and bioproducts would give him an excellent background to address food and water security issues.

Revesz is available to discuss his Jefferson Science Fellowship experience. Contact him at prevesz1@unl.edu or 402-472-3488.

- Troy Fedderson, University Communications