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10 November 2008 - PR 08/157

Tackling the invisible terrorist threat

A new device that can identify tiny amounts of explosive particles – invisible to the naked eye – on people, clothing and luggage has been developed by Loughborough University engineers.

John TyrerThe Explosive Residue Detection system can remotely scan crowded areas, such as airports and train stations, alerting an operator if it detects traces of explosives.

Developed 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 in secret locations across the country. Once commissioned, the implications for counter terrorism and transport security will be felt across the world.

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 development of the new system Professor Tyrer said: “I recognised a number of years ago that there was a need for trying to determine whether or not people were handling explosives. Being able to see explosive residue on people would have obvious and significant security benefits, if we could do it.

“When you handle an explosive the chemicals and various constituents, such as the Semtex or TNT, 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 prototype by Professor Tyrer’s spin-out company, Laser Optical Engineering (LOE), which is based at the campus. LOE was set up ten years ago as a way of funding and developing technology in conjunction with the University.

– Ends –

For all media enquiries contact:

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

Notes for editors:

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

  2. For further information about LOE visit: www.laseroptical.co.uk

  3. Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for excellence in teaching and research, strong links with industry and unrivalled sporting achievement.

    It was awarded the coveted Sunday Times University of the Year 2008-09 title, and is consistently ranked in the top fifteen of UK universities in national newspaper league tables. In the 2008 National Student Survey, Loughborough was voted one of the top five universities in the UK, with 22 out of 30 of its subject areas being ranked in the top ten for overall satisfaction. It was named winner of the 2006 and 2007 Times Higher award for the UK’s Best Student Experience and winner of the 2007 award for Outstanding Support for Overseas Students. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, the University has been awarded six Queen's Anniversary Prizes – an achievement bettered by no other institution.

    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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