Bomb-Detecting Laser Can Find Traces Of Explosives, Could Be Used In Airport Security

By Josh Lieberman on September 10, 2013 3:40 PM EDT

bomb detecting laser
A bomb-detecting laser system created by a professor at Michigan State University is able to detect incredibly small amounts of explosive traces on clothing and luggage. (Photo: Michigan State University)

Michigan State University researchers have created a bomb-detecting laser system that can uncover small amounts of chemical explosives on clothing and luggage. The creators of the bomb-detecting laser system, BioPhotonic Solutions, believe it has the potential to be used in airports and other high security locations, as the laser works very quickly.  

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"Since this method uses a single beam and requires no bulky spectrometers, it is quite practical and could scan many people and their belongings quickly," said Marcos Dantus, a Michigan State University professor and the founder of BioPhotonic Solutions. "Not only does it detect the explosive material, but it also provides an image of the chemical's exact location, even if it's merely a minute trace on a zipper."

The bomb-detecting laser system works by firing two pulses from a single laser beam. The first beam detects explosives by reacting to chemical frequencies found in explosives. The second beam, a "shadow pulse," serves as a reference for the first, and if there are any discrepancies between the two, then evidence of explosive substances may be present on clothing or luggage.

The laser can only detect explosive substances on the outside of material, but it is able to detect particles 1/1000th the size of a grain of sugar. According to Danus, it's pretty much a certainty that someone who has been around explosives will set off the laser system.

"The laser is not affected by the color or surface of clothes or luggage," Dantus said, adding that the laser system has "excellent sensitivity and robust performance on virtually all surfaces."

Dantus came up with the idea for the bomb-detecting laser while collaborating with Harvard University researchers on a laser to detect cancer. During his biomedical imaging research with Harvard, Dantus and his team noticed that the lasers they were working with were capable of detecting hazardous substance traces from up about 30 feet away.

Research on the bomb-detecting laser was funded by the Department of Homeland Security, Science and Technology Directorate. It is apparently safe for use on humans. Dantus's findings are detailed in a paper titled "Standoff explosives trace detection and imaging by selective stimulated Raman scattering," published in Applied Physics Letters.

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