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University awarded military contract to develop sensors for explosives

March 10, 2009 -- Arkansas State University has been awarded a contract by the U.S. Army to conduct research and ultimately, develop a laser-based multi-color, real-time remote sensor capable of detecting the presence of an explosive at a distance of 100 meters.

ASU is one of three universities that will each receive $2.42 million over the next two years from the U.S. Army Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate (NVSED) which is part of CECOM (Communications and Electronics Command) in Alexandria, Va.  Two other universities, Florida A&M University and the University of Hawaii, will work closely with ASU on the project. This project is part of a research effort initiated in 2005 and has been included in the Department of Defense appropriations bills for fiscal years 2008 and 2009. The current contract with NVSED represents a four-year, $6,032,115 investment by the Department of Defense.

“Each of the university partners is using different approaches toward the same aim,” said Dr. Susan Allen, distinguished professor of laser application and science, who will oversee ASU’s project. “Arkansas State’s approach is to develop a sensor to detect vapors from buried explosives from a distance.”

Dr. Allen’s research and development team consists of Dr. Bruce Johnson, associate professor of physics; Dr. Scott Reeve, associate professor of chemistry; associate professor of chemistry Dr. William Burns, and a group of undergraduate and graduate students. She compared the project’s results to the trained dogs which are presently utilized by the military. Currently, the technology of detection from a distance is nonexistent.

“We are trying to develop the equivalent of a dog’s nose which can detect from a distance. The dog doesn’t smell an actual explosive like TNT, but picks up on the presence of other compounds that are always found with the explosive. Our colleagues at the other universities will be studying and developing the detection from a distance of solid explosive residue left behind by fingerprints and other trace evidence,” said Dr. Allen.

The real-time standoff detection sensor will help find Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) which have appeared in Iraq and other areas, and are a danger to civilians as well as U.S. and Allied military forces.                        



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