By Paul Thornton
A LASER which can sniff out landmines has been developed by scientists at a Scots university.
Developers hope the hi-tech device could save hundreds of lives by mapping out mine-fields in combat zones such as Afghanistan and Iraq.
It is also thought that the technology, developed by experts at University of St Andrew’s in Fife, could be used to improve security at airports by checking for bombs hidden in luggage.
Dr Graham Turnbull is a lecturer in physics at the university and worked on the project – published this week – with fellow boffins Professor Ying Yang and Dr Ifor Samuel.
Over two years they created a plastic which emits blue light as a laser beam but which dims when it comes into contact with even tiny traces of the vapour emitted by deadly road-side bombs.
Dr Turnbull, 36, said: “We have shown that our lasers can rapidly sense these TNT-like molecules, frequently used in explosives, at extremely low concentrations.
“I think it could certainly have the potential to save lives.
“We are studying the process of how this works in a laboratory but the concentration levels we are exposing the lasers to are the sort of levels of concentration that sit in a cloud above a land mine in Afghanistan.
“You have at least a cubic metre of area above the land mine where you have a significant concentration of these vapours.
“There are already related techniques but not using the same materials and lasers we are using that have already been commercialised and used by an American company in Iraq.
“But these materials we are using are more sensitive and should be able to detect lower concentrations of vapours.
“In a land mine context the laser could be on a remotely controlled car or robot dog which could go ahead of patrols.
“In an airport you could have your suitcases pass under the sensor at the same time they are X-rayed.”
The research is published by the journal Advanced Functional Materials this week.