Research conducted out of Michigan State University by Marcos Dantus, a chemistry professor and founder of BioPhotonic Solutions, may lead to the potential of detecting trace chemical materials using lasers to increase security at checkpoints such as those in airports worldwide. Marcos Dantus’ findings are published in the latest issue of “Applied Physics Letters” detailing how lasers can be used to scan an individual to find trace chemical residue used to make explosive materials on clothing and luggage. The potential for this technology may lead to enhanced security techniques will speed up the time it takes for individuals to cross security checkpoints in addition to avoiding unnecessary personal intrusions from human searches.
While still in an early developmental phase, the laser as it is currently designed uses a single beam to detect explosive material and the location at which these materials are found. In preliminary studies minute residue was detected on the zipper of an individual who handled explosive materials prior to testing this new technology. The concept of this technological breakthrough has been theorized for decades however the underlying problem to overcome has always been finding a way to utilize a laser beam for detection that is weak enough to be used safely on humans.
Current detection procedures for explosive materials require an individual’s hands to be swabbed and have the swab placed in a device called an ion mobility spectrometer to analyze the chemical makeup of the swab. In Japan a prototype boarding gate has already been installed using a similar procedure where the boarding cards are scanned for explosive materials that could contain residue from explosive materials on a passenger’s hands. Airport security personnel worldwide are seeking more efficient ways to provide safety without additional inconveniences associated with enhanced security procedures for passengers.
How does this laser detector operate?
The bomb detecting laser operates by projecting a beam with alternating pulses. The first pulse creates resonation with a specific chemical frequency that exists in explosives while the second pulse acts as a point of reference. The resonation in the first pulse when it comes in contact with explosive chemicals causes a delay which is compared to the “shadow” reference in the second pulse. This indicates the presence of potentially hazardous materials in the object scanned. Currently this device is able to detect materials within ten meters of the laser’s projection point. The idea came to Dantus while he was employed in the field of biomedical imaging with Harvard using a similar type of technology used to detect cancer in patients.
Despite the use of lasers one might think that the color of the objects scanned might influence the outcome of the scan. In actuality this technology can be used on almost any objects regardless of their shape, surface texture or color to provide precise results. Current expectations for deployment of this technology are projected to see a useful prototype created within the next year however it may take much longer before this is seen in airports or security checkpoints. One unnamed aerospace company has already taken an interest in the technological applications of this idea and are funding further research to develop a prototype.Tags: airport security, laser technology