Researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) have developed a new high-tech laser that can detect roadside bombs, one of the greatest causes of death for coalition soldiers.
Researchers said the laser they have developed has comparable output to a simple presentation pointer and is sensitive and accurate enough to detect improvised explosive devices (IED) – weapons that account for more than half the deaths of coalition soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Marcos Dantus, a chemistry professor and founder of BioPhotonic Solutions, led the team and the published results can be found in the current issue of Applied Physics Letters.
“Detecting bombs has always been a challenge due to chemical compounds present in the environment that mask the bombs molecules,” Dr. Marcos Dantus said.
Having molecular structure sensitivity is critical for identifying explosives and avoiding unnecessary evacuation of buildings and closing roads due to false alarms, he added.
IEDs can be found in populated areas, and therefore, the researchers said the methods to detect these kinds of weapons must be nondestructive. These methods must also be able to distinguish explosives from vast arrays of similar compounds that can be found in urban environments.
The latest laser appears effective at distinguishing explosives from the vast array of similar compounds that can be found in urban environments and can handle quantities as small as a fraction of a billionth of a gram, according to the university release.
The laser beam combines short pulses that kick the molecules and make them vibrate, as well as long pulses that are used to “listen” and identify the different “chords.”
The chords include different vibrational frequencies that uniquely identify every molecule, much like a fingerprint. The high-sensitivity laser works in tandem with cameras and allows users to scan questionable areas from a safe distance.
The laser and the method we've developed were originally intended for microscopes, but we were able to adapt and broaden its use to demonstrate its effectiveness for standoff detection of explosives, said Dr. Dantus.
The laser has been shown to work at distances up to about 40 feet, though should be possible at distances of 330 feet. Beyond that, we need engineers who know how to handle longer distances, Dantus said in a statement to MSNBC.