Home > Physics > Land Mine Detection With Stuff That Smells Good

Land Mine Detection With Stuff That Smells Good

Punta Espora, Chile, Tierra del Fuego side of the Strait of Magellan - minefield warnig near the ferry terminal

At the March meeting of the American Physical Society, an abstract was presented entitled “Detection of Nitro aromatics via fluorescence quenching of pegylated and siloxanated 4, 8-dimethylcoumarins”.

The BBC reported that this study utilized curcumin, which is found in the spice turmeric and is one of the key ingredients in many curry powders.

Now, I wasn’t at the meeting so I may be wrong, but the abstract does not describe using curcumin, but coumarins. Coumarin is also a fragrant chemical compound, but it is not found in turmeric. It is actually used as a rodenticide and was banned as a food additive in the United States in 1954.

If I’m lucky enough to have a reader who knows more about this work, or was at the conference and saw this talk, I would very much appreciate a clarification. In any case, the research is still pretty interesting.

The abstract described the work of a team of researchers at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. The group reported their research into using optical sensors to detect chemical explosives, such as those found in land mines.

Optical sensors work by reacting the molecules released into the air of the chemical explosive. The optical properties of the sensor material changes after interacting with the explosive. Measuring these changes in optical properties is called fluorescence spectroscopy.

The group created co-polymers and tested their use in fluorescence quenching, which means that when you shine a light on these polymers in the presence of explosives such as trinitrotoluene (TNT), the light given off by them would dim.

The BBC also reports that

The team, which is funded in part by the US government, is already in discussions with a company to develop the technique into a portable detector device.

which, given the huge problem of land mines in war-torn countries, could turn out to be very useful.

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