LEVI McPHERSON, a graduate student of analytical chemistry at the University of North Central Florida, is approached by agents of the Homeland Security’s Counter-terrorism Unit. The agency is recruiting Lee to study and expose the loopholes of screening instruments in airports. Struggling financially, he accepted the offer, making him a paid, benevolent hacker of the nation’s gateway. Yet Levi is horrified when an Airbus from Los Angeles disintegrated in mid-air.

At 40, when everybody’s career trajectory is going up, Levi’s still a poor graduate student, struggling financially. His research projects however, are worth million dollars. Researching the highly classified and heavily guarded secrets of detecting traces of explosives, what Lee know was a goldmine. The agency's offer is his financial break . So Levi tackles the problem like a scientist, detailing the loopholes of the aviation security and turning what he knew into a big time money machine.

JIM and JONATHAN of the counter-terrorism unit, where nowhere to be found after Charlotte International Airport, a hub of Delta Airlines closed abruptly because of instrument malfunctions in their security lines. And in a post-Osama Bin Laden’s era, the biggest blow to the United Stated after the 9/11 disaster comes unexpectedly when a passenger plane blew up in the skies of Washington D.C., in the heart of the nation.

Levi knew it was only the start of more troubles, so he recruits his fellow graduate students to counter the future attacks. They have to think like criminals—and scientists too. With the help of FBI counter-terrorism experts, Homeland Security and Transportation Security Agency, the team races to close and plug the loopholes Lee identified.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Oral Exam Preparation

The nerve wrecking part of being a graduate student, is the preparation for oral qualifying examinations. Traditional education, such as classroom learning is simple: students pass the tests and they go on to the next level. Graduate students suffer differently, because you have to pass an oral qualifying exam.

I am preparing for my oral qualifying. After my committee members decide that I do have enough knowledge to continue my research, then I'm on to the next level which is a Ph.D. candidate. Right now, I'm reading anything related to my research: FT-ICR, OPO Laser and IR Laser. I take notes the fundamentals and basic of mass spectrometry, how a laser works and how is the laser useful for chemical analysis. The notes is color coded: Dirty white papers for anything mass spectrometry, Orange for anything OPO Lasers and red for Infrared related.

Passing this test requires a laser-like focus and concentration, an efficiency and strategy of a five star general, adding the analytical and methodical way of a neurosurgeon. You are not called a Ph.D. or an expert just for nothing. Suffer just like any other graduate students, as one of my friend described it as pretty hard, dude (Ph.D.)

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