Lasers could be used to detect roadside bombs

September 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.

Explore further: Smart lasers could make cancer biopsies painless, help speed new drugs to market

Related Stories

Plastic laser detects tiny amounts of explosives

June 8, 2010

( -- Detecting hidden explosives is a difficult task but now researchers in the UK have developed a completely new way of detecting them, with a laser sensor capable of detecting molecules of explosives at concentrations ...

K-State attosecond research could aid Homeland Security

May 21, 2007

Building a new laser-like X-ray source powerful and quick enough to capture fast motion in the atomic world is a big job. But Zenghu Chang, Kansas State University professor of physics, and his team of physicists and engineers ...

NRL Develops Technique To Speed Detection Process

February 15, 2010

( -- Researchers at the Naval Research Laboratory are developing a device to enable rapid detection and identification of bacteria, chemicals, and explosives in the environment or on the battlefield.

Recommended for you

Imaging technique unlocks the secrets of 17th century artists

November 21, 2017

The secrets of 17th century artists can now be revealed, thanks to 21st century signal processing. Using modern high-speed scanners and the advanced signal processing techniques, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology ...

Physicists design $100 handheld muon detector

November 20, 2017

At any given moment, the Earth's atmosphere is showered with high-energy cosmic rays that have been blasted from supernovae and other astrophysical phenomena far beyond the Solar System. When cosmic rays collide with the ...

A curious quirk brings organic diode lasers one step closer

November 20, 2017

Since their invention in 1962, semiconductor diode lasers have revolutionized communications and made possible information storage and retrieval in CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray devices. These diode lasers use inorganic semiconductors ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

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.]

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.