• Airport securityU.K. gov. launches £3M competition for innovative airport bomb-detection tech

    Two U.K. government ministries — the Home Office and Department for Transport—have launched a Dragons’ Den-style investment prize, hoping to find innovative ways to detect bombs in laptops, phones, and cameras carried by passengers on board. The government has announced a £3 million competition in an effort to attract scientists and inventors to help the security services and the airline industry keep up with the nefarious ingenuity of terrorists.

  • Explosion detectionBalloon-borne infrasound sensor array detects explosions

    Infrasound is sound of very low frequencies, below 20 hertz, which is lower than humans can hear. African elephants produce infrasound for long-distance communication at around 15 hertz. For comparison, a bumblebee’s buzz is typically 150 hertz and humans hear in the range of 20 to 20,000 hertz. Infrasound is important because it’s one of the verification technologies the U.S. and the international community use to monitor explosions, including those caused by nuclear tests. Traditionally, infrasound is detected by ground-based sensor arrays, which don’t cover the open ocean and can be muddled by other noises, such as the wind. Sandia Lab scientists is using sheets of plastic, packing tape, some string, a little charcoal dust, and a white shoebox-size box to build a solar-powered hot air balloon for detecting infrasound.

  • Smart sensorsSmart sensor could revolutionize crime, terrorism prevention

    Crime, terrorism prevention, environmental monitoring, reusable electronics, medical diagnostics and food safety, are just a few of the far-reaching areas where a new chemical sensor could revolutionize progress. Engineers at the University of Oxford have used material compounds, known as Metal Organic Frameworks (MOFs), to develop technology that senses and responds to light and chemicals. The material visibly changes color depending on the substance detected.

  • LandminesEnlisting drones to detect unexploded landmines through changes in plant health

    From U.S. Navy laboratories to battlefields in Afghanistan, researchers are lining up to explore the use of unmanned aerial vehicles to detect unexploded landmines. Researchers are enlisting a third variable —plant health — to see whether drones can be used to more safely locate such weapons of destruction. Plant responses to explosives have only been tested – but at the leaf level and in the lab. Now, research can be applied at the field level with the use of UAVs.

  • Aviation securityNew simulator tool allows testing the explosive vulnerabilities of aircraft

    Each day, more than twenty-six thousand commercial flights transport passengers and cargo to destinations around the world. S&T’s Commercial Aircraft Vulnerability and Mitigation (CAVM) program supports testing and evaluation efforts to assess potential vulnerabilities and evaluate countermeasures that can mitigate the impact of explosives on commercial aircraft. Newer generations of commercial aircraft fuselages are being made with composite materials, such as carbon fiber reinforced plastic, so CAVM needs to develop a sustainable and representative testing solution in order to all evaluations of new composite aircraft structures to explosive-based threats could continue as needed.

  • BiosecurityU.S. ends 3-year ban on research involving enhanced-lethality viruses

    The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) yesterday announced it was ending its three-year moratorium on funding of gain-of-function research, that is, research which aims to make extremely dangerous viruses even more dangerous in order to find a vaccine or cure for them. The U.S. government instituted the ban in 2014, against the backdrop of rising worries that these “gain-of-function” studies would allow scientists to increase the ability of the infectious disease to spread by enhancing its pathogenicity, or its ability to cause disease. Scientists who supported continuing research involving enhancing the transmissibility of infectious disease were not helped by a series of safety mishaps at federal research facilities.

  • No-drone zonesFAA declares seven nuclear research facilities no-drone zones

    The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has granted a request from the Department of Energy (DOE) to declare seven DOE’s nuclear research facilities no-drone zones. Starting 29 December, drone operators would not be allowed to fly their UAVs within 400 feet of these facilities: The FAA said it is currently considering more “no-drone zone” requests from federal agencies.

  • BiosecurityBiosecurity conference fosters international, multidisciplinary collaboration

    Biosecurity prevents unauthorized access, loss and intentional release of biological pathogens, information and equipment that may cause harm. Biosecurity professionals from across the United States and Mexico gathered on Arizona State University’s Tempe campus 7-8 December, the first time a biosecurity conference of this scope had taken place in Arizona and one of the largest ever to be held in the United States. Leaders in the field shared multidisciplinary approaches and perspectives on biosecurity.

  • Chemical detection A portable, shoe-box-sized chemical detector

    A chemical sensor prototype will be able to detect “single-fingerprint quantities” of substances from a distance of more than 100 feet away, and its developers are working to shrink it to the size of a shoebox. It could potentially be used to identify traces of drugs and explosives, as well as speeding the analysis of certain medical samples. A portable infrared chemical sensor could be mounted on a drone or carried by users such as doctors, police, border officials and soldiers.

  • Human-induced earthquakesGeologists report new findings about Kansas, Oklahoma earthquakes

    In the more than three decades between 1977 and 2012, only 15 earthquakes with a magnitude of 3.0 or greater were recorded in the entire state of Kansas. Since 2012 more than 100 earthquakes of 3.0 or greater have been recorded in only two counties in the state, Sumner and Harper. These include the largest earthquake ever monitored in Kansas in November 2014, a magnitude 4.9 event near the Sumner County town of Milan. The frequency of earthquakes has continued to increase. Between May 2015 and July 2017, sensors detected more than 2,400 earthquakes in Sumner County alone, ranging in magnitude from 0.4 to 3.6. As concern rises about earthquakes induced by human activity like oil exploration, geologists report a new understanding about recent earthquakes in Kansas and Oklahoma.

  • Food safetyBioelectronic “nose” detects food spoilage by sensing the smell of death

    Strong odors are an indicator that food has gone bad, but there could soon be a new way to sniff foul smells earlier on. Researchers have developed a bioelectronic “nose” that can specifically detect a key decay compound at low levels, enabling people to potentially take action before the stink spreads. It can detect rotting food, as well as be used to help find victims of natural disasters or crimes.

  • WMDDHS establishes the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction office

    Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen last week announced the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD) Office. DHS says that the CWMD Office will elevate and streamline DHS efforts to prevent terrorists and other national security threat actors from using harmful agents, such as chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear material and devices to harm Americans and U.S. interests.

  • Gas masksBetter gas mask filters

    In research that could lead to better gas mask filters, scientists have been putting the X-ray spotlight on composite materials in respirators used by the military, police, and first responders, and the results have been encouraging. What they are learning not only provides reassuring news about the effectiveness of current filters in protecting people from lethal compounds such as VX and sarin, but they also provide fundamental information that could lead to more advanced gas masks as well as protective gear for civilian applications.

  • Water securityRobot detects underground water leaks

    The United States faces a looming crisis over its deteriorating water infrastructure, and fixing it will be a monumental and expensive task. In Los Angeles alone, about two thirds of the city’s 7,000 miles of water pipes are more than 60 years old — and nearing the end of their useful lives. Water main breaks can cause flooding, leading to serious structural damage and soil erosion. Even small leaks can exacerbate water shortages and allow potentially harmful contaminants into our drinking water. But locating a leak within a vast network of underground pipes is almost impossible. Researchers are developing an autonomous robot that could quickly and inexpensively detect damage in water pipes — even those buried meters below the ground.

  • InfrastructureDark fiber: Sensors beneath our feet to tell us about earthquakes, water, other geophysical phenomenon

    Scientists have shown for the first time that dark fiber – the vast network of unused fiber-optic cables installed throughout the country and the world – can be used as sensors for detecting earthquakes, the presence of groundwater, changes in permafrost conditions, and a variety of other subsurface activity.