Researchers find alternative to x-rays for detection systems

March 4, 2004

Brussels, 03 Mar 2004

Microwaves could be used in security operations to identify concealed weapons, British researchers have announced. They could also help to unearth and dislodge buried mines.

A team of engineers and physicists at Northumbria University in the UK are developing a technique to produce microwave-based three-dimensional images of hidden objects. The research may lead to the use of microwaves as a safer alternative to x-rays in airport security checks, building searches, landmine detection and other applications.

'The technology could be very versatile and suited to use in security, medical and industrial applications,' said Dr David Smith, who is leading the team of scientists.

X-ray radiation is used in detection systems to penetrate materials and build up an image of what is underneath. The problem with x-rays, however, is that they can be detrimental to human health and therefore require considerable precaution when used. Microwaves, on the other hand, are harmless.

'Microwaves are inherently safe, certainly in comparison to x-rays, which are ionising radiation that causes tissue damage. Microwaves are non-ionising and don't cause tissue damage,' emphasised Dr Smith.

However, the technology will only be useful in security operations if the images can be produced quickly and cheaply.

'To tackle this key barrier, the innovative technique will comprise a two-stage process,' explained a spokesperson for the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), which is funding the project. 'The first involves the use of conventional detectors to measure the two-dimensional pattern made by the scattering of microwaves when they come into contact with a hidden object. The second stage takes this data and uses computer software to construct a 3-dimensional image from it. The technique aims to avoid the need to use complex 'one-stage' equipment that produces images slowly and at considerable expense.

Although the research is still at an early stage, the ultimate aim is to produce an alternative, 3D microwave imaging technique that can be used across a wide range of disciplines.

The scientists hope to produce the first images within 18 months. Although it is unlikely that microwaves will replace x-rays in airport security checks, the scientists believe that they will be useful for detecting dangerous objects on passengers.
For further information on the EPSRC, please visit:

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities

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