New Land Mine Detectors May Help Fulfill Princess Diana's Dream

September 03, 1997

GAINESVILLE --- A revolutionary new land mine detection system, developed at the University of Florida originally for military use, is ready to be converted for a humanitarian effort to rid the world of leftover land mines lurking in former war areas.

The system, which could be ready in early 1998, could play a part in fulfilling the dreams of the late Diana, Princess of Wales. In the months leading up to her death Sunday in a Paris car crash, Diana was deeply involved in ridding the world of land mines. It also could help define the agenda of concerned diplomats from around the world convening this week in Oslo, Norway, to hammer out an international treaty halting the production and sale of land mines.

From Afghanistan to Bosnia, old-but-active land mines kill and maim an estimated 25,000 people -- mostly civilians -- annually. UF scientists hope to make the world safer, especially for children, who most often fall victim to the lurking artifacts of bygone wars.

"Our immediate mission has shifted from military applications to humanitarian applications," said Alan Jacobs, a professor with UF's nuclear and radiological engineering department. "We plan to make a device immediately, with existing technology and equipment."

To combat the threat from land mines, Jacobs, Associate Professor Edward Dugan and their research team have developed the technology to make a small, mobile land mine detector using an X-ray probe that not only locates land mines but accurately identifies them by type.

A proposed partnership between UF and BioImaging Research of Chicago soon could put lateral migration backscatter radiography, the portable X-ray technology, on a small all-terrain vehicle. Within a year, it could be available to governments and humanitarian agencies around the world.

Jacobs and his team developed the technology during the past few years for military use with funding from the U.S. Army. But the Army is eagerly awaiting the development of a much larger X-ray unit that can detect land mines in a 14-foot-wide swath at 5 mph. An X-ray generator that can do what the Army wants probably is feasible, Jacobs said, but not yet a reality.

So, in the meantime, the researchers decided to see if the technology could be used to help clear the world's estimated 120 million active landmine in former war zones.

"Most buried land mines are made of predominantly plastic and are impossible to detect accurately with current techniques," said Jacobs.

The backscatter technique, said Jacobs, uses X-ray photons that bounce off the electrons of materials. Explosives and plastics bounce back more photons than soil does, and they scatter them more widely, which can create more accurate images of the mines. Rocks, wood, roots and other materials create very different images and cannot be confused with land mines.

When Jacobs and his team recently employed real land mines in their tests rather than simulated land mines, even they were surprised with the results.

"The backscatter technique is even more accurate than we'd thought," said Jacobs. "It's many times better than what we had before and uses low wattage to drive the X-ray machine. With sufficient funding, the backscatter detector could be on the job next year." A recent technology transfer grant from the Department of Defense to develop a more efficient unit unites Jacob's efforts at UF with Raton Technology Research of New Mexico and the Los Alamos National Laboratory. For the larger unit, RTR will provide an antenna that can quickly scan an area 100 square meters to locate land mines. Los Alamos will provide a detector that can determine the presence of explosives at the site of a mine image.


Writer: Randolph Fillmore
Source: Alan Jacobs
(352) 392-2549

University of Florida

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