Most of the dangers of war are plain to see. Engineers have come up with a new way to find dangers you can’t see. Finding land mines. Today, on Engineering Works!
Land mines have been used in warfare for more than 800 years, and they’re deadly — often, long after the war is over. The UN estimates that at least 110 million land mines remain hidden around the world as a result of declared and undeclared wars. Mines kill or injure about 24,000 people every year.
The big problem with land mines is that they’re hard to find. Some are made of plastic or wood so that they’ll be hard to find. Others are shaped like rocks or animal dung.
Now, engineers have come up with a special film that detects vapors given off by the explosive inside mines, even underground. The film uses sensitive nanofibers to detect tiny quantities of vapor from TNT, HMX and RDX, even beyond what we think of a trace amounts. For instance, it sniffs out HMX at a tenth of a part per trillion, with a T. That’s almost not there at all.
The film is fast and accurate, although it’s still not as good as a trained sniffer dog. But the film doesn’t get tired, as dogs do, and it can tell the difference between one device and another, which dogs sometimes can’t do.
There’s no mines on our way home, so we’re going to go there now. See you next time.
Engineering Works! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU-FM in College Station. Learn more about engineering. Visit us on the World Wide Web.
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