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K-State professor assists war on terror with bomb detection research

By Keener A. Tippin II


The Marines are looking for a few good men ... to assist them in their efforts in the war on terrorism. A Kansas State University professor is one of those men.

Bill DunnBill Dunn, a K-State associate professor of mechanical and nuclear engineering, pictured at left, has been recruited by the Marines to develop a way to improve bomb detection without having to get in close proximity to suspicious containers such as cars, knapsacks, briefcases, etc., that may conceal explosives.

"The Marine Corps needs what they call 'stand-off' bomb detection," Dunn said. "We're trying to detect explosives remotely, where any people and anything that might be damaged if an explosive device is detonated are far enough away so that they are not injured or can survive the blast."

The device will use pulses of radiation that go into the target. What comes back, to a large extent, is determined by what is inside the target.

"Different elements emit radiation of different characteristic energies," Dunn said. "We're trying to detect what comes back from the target and see if it looks like what you would see in an explosive."

"We know what signals come back when we interrogate an object containing an explosive substance; now we're trying to find out the best way to analyze the data to make sure we're correct, that there are explosives on board."

Dunn said the problem becomes more complicated by the size of the container.

Dunn began working on the project in November 2004 as the death toll in the war in Iraq continued to increase due to car and suicide bombings by insurgents.

"The technology we are trying to develop for car bombs also can be applied to a briefcase, a knapsack or a suitcase," Dunn said. "Anything that encloses contents, you want to know what those contents are."

According to Dunn, technologies such as computed tomography that image devices are not appropriate for field use because they require the object to be placed in a housing and they involve high radiation levels.

"In the field, soldiers do not have the luxury of being able to put every package inside something and inspect it that way," Dunn said. We're trying to do this from several meters away; 'interrogate' something from a distance and say 'that looks suspicious.'

"The military would love to have a hand-held device," Dunn said. "We're not optimistic that we can develop something that would be that light and maneuverable. It's possible over time, however, as we miniaturize things. What we're trying to develop now would probably be on rollers."

At expected funding levels, Dunn believes prototype devices will be ready for field testing within three years and the technology will be ready for field use within four years.

"We think we understand the technology enough. The real thing is analyzing the data in a careful way so that you eliminate false negatives; you don't say that vehicle looks OK and it really has a bomb. We want to be as certain as possible that we detect a bomb if one is present."

M2 Technologies is assisting K-State with the project.

Dunn can be reached at 785-532-5628 or dunn@k-state.edu


Summer 2006