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5 January 2010 | PR10/01

Loughborough University device could safeguard air travellers from acts of terrorism

Professor John Tyrer

Professor John Tyrer

A new device developed by Loughborough University that can identify tiny amounts of explosive particles – invisible to the naked eye – could provide the solution to better protecting the travelling public from acts of terrorism.

The Prime Minister has called for Whole Body Imaging (WBI) to be introduced to UK airports and identified greater use of explosive residue detection as being needed, in response to the attempted downing of Northwest Airlines flight 253 on its approach to Detroit Metro airport on Christmas Day.

Currently deployed explosive residue detection systems rely on airport security personnel randomly swabbing passengers before they board flights.  Not only is this time consuming, but also it is open to human error in the reading of results.

The University’s Explosive Residue Detection system can remotely scan crowded areas, such as airports and train stations, automatically alerting an operator if it detects traces of explosives.

The system is non-invasive, works in real time, causes no delays to passengers and is fully automated, ruling out human error, and the images produced are no more controversial than those generated by CCTV.

Created by Professor John Tyrer from the University’s Wolfson School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, along with colleagues from the Department of Chemistry, the device is currently undergoing field trials at a number of undisclosed locations across the country. 

Explosive Residue Detection uses the latest generation of pulsed lasers and video camera techniques.  It combines them to produce a large-area, fluorescent, lifetime imaging system.  By controlling the laser timing and optical filters, this allows direct imaging of explosive residue.  Once the explosive residue is detected the system activates automatically and alerts an operator to a positive identification.  It does not rely on people watching a TV screen and unlike sniffer dogs that operate by detecting particles present in the air, this system can be very specific and accurate.

Speaking about the new system Professor Tyrer said: “This recent attack highlights the worldwide need for explosive residue detection that is quick, accurate, non-evasive and does not cause major delays for the travelling pubic.

“When you handle an explosive the chemicals and various constituent components present, leave traces on your fingers and clothes.  The challenge was being able to see those particles, and those alone.  That was our biggest problem.

“Using some of the laser technology that we have invented here over the past few years, we were eventually able to adapt this technology so that we could see the explosives and reject all other materials.”

The technology created at Loughborough University has been developed into a working system by Professor Tyrer in conjunction with UK companies.  He is currently working on a highly portable version of the equipment to enable operators to also use hand held systems.


For all media enquiries contact:

Judy Wing
Senior PR Officer
Loughborough University
T: 01509 228697
M: 07814 95044
E: J.L.Wing@lboro.ac.uk 

Notes for editors:

1. Images to accompany the press release are available from the PR Office.

2. Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines

It was awarded the coveted Sunday Times University of the Year 2008-09 title, and is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in national newspaper league tables. In the 2009 National Student Survey, Loughborough was voted one of the top five universities in the UK, and was named winner of the 2006, 2007 and 2008 Times Higher award for the UK’s Best Student Experience. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, the University has been awarded six Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

It is a member of the esteemed 1994 Group – a set of internationally recognised, research-intensive universities – and has a reputation for the relevance of its work. Its degree programmes are highly regarded by professional institutions and businesses, and its graduates are consistently targeted by the UK’s top recruiters.

Loughborough is also the UK’s premier university for sport. It has perhaps the best integrated sports development environment in the world and is home to some of the country’s leading coaches, sports scientists and support staff. It also has the country’s largest concentration of world-class training facilities across a wide range of sports.

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