Lasers could be used to detect roadside bombs

Sep 16, 2011
Marcos Dantus, chemistry department

A research team at Michigan State University has developed a laser that could detect roadside bombs – the deadliest enemy weapon encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The laser, which has comparable output to a simple presentation pointer, potentially has the sensitivity and selectivity to canvas large areas and detect improvised explosive devices – weapons that account for around 60 percent of coalition soldiers' deaths. Marcos Dantus, chemistry professor and founder of BioPhotonic Solutions, led the team and has published the results in the current issue of Applied Physics Letters.

The detection of IEDs in the field is extremely important and challenging because the environment introduces a large number of chemical compounds that mask the select few molecules that one is trying to detect, 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 said

Since IEDs can be found in populated areas, the methods to detect these weapons must be nondestructive. They also must be able to distinguish explosives from vast arrays of similar compounds that can be found in urban environments. Dantus' latest laser can make these distinctions even for quantities as small as a fraction of a billionth of a gram.

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 can work 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 Dantus, who hopes to net additional funding to take this from the lab and into the field.

This research is funded in part by the Department of Homeland Security. BioPhotonic Solutions is a high-tech company Dantus launched in 2003 to commercialize technology invented in a spinoff from his research group at MSU.

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3 / 5 (2) Sep 16, 2011
It only takes one functioning brain cell to realize all that's needed is to release particles of various explosive compounds as one travels down the targeted road thus acting similar to how metallic chaff is released to confuse radar.

Watch out DARPA, They're looking for money.
5 / 5 (1) Sep 17, 2011
this analogy is chaffed in so many ways, its the detection, not the evasion....
5 / 5 (1) Sep 17, 2011
Hmmmm....guess I shoulda known. I'll dumb it down.

You spend $13 billion to equip all vehicles with laser explosive detectors.

Bad guys come along and gives kid $5 to spread explosive pieces, fragments and dust down the road for miles. Repeat until laser detectors go off constantly.

Nothing like continuous false positives to make our guys relax and feel like they're one up on the competition.

Meanwhile, Marcos Dantus of BioPhotonic Solutions will be getting fat on war profiteering. To hell with microscopes. The big money is in war.
not rated yet Sep 17, 2011
i agree with yawning dog. LIDAR for detecting microtopographic changes combined with SAR for detecting thin wires is a much better way to go. and it looks like it is being implemented.
not rated yet Sep 18, 2011
As with anything that the military uses today, you'll see this incorporated as only one part of the overall "solution." Combine this with other technologies, across multiple platforms, all tied into an "expert" system (and all of it spread across a suitable number of congressional districts/states), overpriced by a factor of 100x (actually much more), and 'poof!' you have a weapons/intelligence system. [I've been on the testing teams on a few projects in my time so I have something of a clue here.]

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