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Ultraviolet Explosive Detector For Better Airport Screening

Ultraviolet Explosive Detector For Better Airport Screening

UV light can detect dangerous explosives without additional security lines.

Ultraviolet Explosive Detector for Better Airport Screening

Wednesday, March 19, 2014 - 18:00

Marsha Lewis, Contributing Producer

When it comes to air travel, most customers want to get to their destination as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, long security lines are a big barrier to smooth travel.

Now scientists at the University of Florida in Gainesville have developed a new detection system that could improve safety in airports and on flights without extra security lines.

The detection system is the first to use ultraviolet light to identify traces of dangerous explosives like TNT.

“This is an instrument which measures the difference in the reflectivity between two materials,” said Rolf Hummel, a materials research scientist at the University of Florida.

All bags that undergo TSA screening currently go through a standard X-ray conveyor belt. Currently, security agents then perform additional screening on about 5 percent of bags. This additional step adds time on security lines for those selected for additional screening, but subjects only a small percentage of bags to additional scrutiny.

The new technology works with the existing X-ray conveyor belt, and is able to scan 100 percent of the luggage for explosives without the extra step of removing them for further inspection.

Ultraviolet light shines onto the luggage moving on the X-ray belt. Traces of explosives absorb specific colors of UV light. The system then provides a fingerprint of the material and compares it to known explosives in a database.

The system beeps when it finds a match, and is 95% accurate in identifying explosives.

“Something comes in, we look at the surface. We compare that to a database, see if there’s anything that’s matching. If there is, then we give a warning,” said Thierry Dubroca, a materials research scientist at the University of Florida.

Dubroca said, “The main difference is this system works automatically, that means you don’t need an operator to separate you from the line.”

The device detects explosive residue in the range of micrograms. So far, researchers haven’t found any known type of explosive that the device cannot detect.

The team is now helping to develop this technology into a product that could be used in airports in the future.

Get Inside the Science:

UF Researchers Refine System to Detect Explosive Materials

Rolf Hummel, University of Florida

Thierry Dubroca, University of Florida

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Author Bio & Story Archive

Marsha Lewis is a freelance producer based in California.  She has won 11 National Telly Awards and nine Regional Emmy Awards for her work in local and national syndicated news.

I’ve dedicated my time to reporting and producing stories focused on medical, science and technology. I created a nationally award winning series dedicated to promoting women and their great accomplishments.  Now I’ve taken that expertise outside the traditional TV news format and broadened the viewership to people around the world.