ORNL scientists developing high-tech bomb detection system

ORNL scientists developing high-tech bomb detection system

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OAK RIDGE (WATE) - Authorities still don't know who's responsible for Monday's deadly attack at the Boston Marathon.

The attack highlights again the fears many have shared since Sept. 11, 2001, but there is new technology being developed in East Tennessee to help law enforcement sniff out a bomb.

Ken Tobin is part of a team at Oak Ridge National Laboratory developing a device with unprecedented sensitivity to be able to detect bombs.

"Nobody can do this. There no devices in the military, the law enforcement that really allow you do to that detailed, spectrum-analysis at those kind of distances in the field," said Ken Tobin, director of Measurements Science & Engineering Division at ORNL.

Researchers believe this new "sniffer" will achieve a detection level beyond other chemical sensors. The system uses lasers to detect explosive devices from a distance of a football field.

The device consists of a digital camera, a laser, imaging optics and signal processing technology that comes together to detect the most tiny or trace amounts of substances in air.

The device will detect residue that is left behind when bombs are handled and packaged. 

The implications could be significant for anyone whose job is to detect explosives, biological agents and narcotics.

"The ability to able to detect small amounts of the residue trace materials on a variety of potential surfaces, containers, packages or something an IED might be in is really where a lot of the strength in this technology comes in," said Tobin.

The device would also allow authorities to instantly process potentially explosive materials.  

Right now, when bomb detectives collect samples, they are taken back to a lab for analysis.  

"It'd be a great advantage to law enforcement, especially for the situation we just had," said Tobin.

The device is still in its development stage, but it's the hope that investigators like those in Boston will get answers sooner.

ORNL anticipate the technology could be developed for commercial use in one to two years.

Scientists hope the technology could one day be miniaturized to work as a hand-held device.

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