New remote sensing system can detect explosives and drugs

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute researchers developed a remote sensing technology to sniff out chemical, biological, and explosives. The remote sensing systems can be used for commercial and defense purposes.
Written by Boonsri Dickinson, Contributing Editor

Ever since the underwear bomber on a Northwest Airlines flight failed to ignite a powdery substance Christmas Eve, airport security regulations have been put into question.

When airport authorities claimed high-tech security scanners could have prevented this from ever happening, the scanning devices that used terahertz (THz) technology attracted some eyeballs.

A number of the new body scanning machines have been deployed in major airports in the United States. However, privacy advocates worry the see-through-your-clothes scanning machines reveal way too much.

Besides exposing the outline of a person's nude body, THz waves can penetrate and see almost any material that isn't liquid or metal.

THz waves essentially pick up where metal detectors fail and detect images that x-rays and microwaves can't.

Currently, people must go through specialized machines, so the THz waves can be measured.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute researchers may have a way around that. The scientists discovered how to use THz technology to detect explosives, drugs, and chemical spills 20 meters away.

"It will be very competitive technology. Terahertz can immediately tell you the fingerprint of the chemical compounds,"  the Center for THz Research's Jingle Liu says. "We can extend the sensing range of current machines."

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