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Remote bomb detection sensors

Posted on 11/05/2011

Sensors could be used by police

Scientists at King’s College London are embarking on a project to develop a network of state-of-the-art sensors capable of detecting hidden explosives. The sensors will work by detecting the chemical traces of explosive vapours in the air in order to provide early warning to security services and protect vulnerable urban populations from the threat of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), often used by terrorist organizations.

The EU-funded project, Bomb Factory Detection by Networks of Advanced Sensors (BONAS), was brought about in response to the London bombings in 2005, and will see physics and nanomaterials specialists from King’s working with colleagues across Europe, with €4 million split between 12 teams for a four year project. The partnership, led by Italian National Agency for New Technologies, involves scientists from Queen's University of Belfast and a number of other European centres and companies, including the Scientific Police Institute at the University of Lausanne and the Finnish National Bureau of Investigation. The consortium represents the entire chain from basic research to field deployment, in order to guarantee that the networks can be used by security services as soon as they are built.

The King’s team, led by Professor Anatoly Zayats and involving Professor David Richards and Dr Gregory Wurtz from the Department of Physics, will be focusing on a technique called Raman scattering, which involves using lasers to identify the chemical fingerprints of explosives in the air. This technique detects tiny changes in the colour of light when it interacts with molecules.

‘If you shine a laser on to a molecule, you can measure the Raman response,’ said Zayats. ‘At the moment we can do this right down to a single molecule, but the signal strength is too weak for applications outside the research lab.’ The team will employ metal nanostructures in order to enhance the signal, so eventually a sensor can be developed to warn when the concentration of key chemicals in the air reaches a certain threshold.

Zayats hopes that once the network is fully developed, security forces will be able to identify a bomb inside a building or vehicle by sensors monitoring the chemical composition of molecules in the air outside. The sensors, specifically designed to be sensitive and easily hidden, could also be installed in a network to protect high profile public buildings, so as to provide an early warning for police if any traces of explosives are detected. ‘Once the project is finished it will require minimum effort to make it available to the police and security agencies,’ said Zayats.

The contribution from the King’s team, together with a variety of other detection devices being developed across Europe, will enable a broad spectrum of chemicals to be picked up and also prevent false alarms.

‘This project is a perfect example of how the academic and commercial partnership can efficiently use new technologies to make the world a safer place for everyone,' said Zayats. 'We are very excited that our research into nanostructures can contribute to this.’

Notes to editors

About the EU BONAS Project

For more information and illustrations of how the sensors will be deployed please visit the BONAS home page

The aim of BONAS is to design, develop and test a novel wireless sensors network for increasing citizen protection and homeland security against terrorist attacks, in particular against the threat posed by IED devices. The sensor network will focus on the detection of traces of precursors used in IED production (particulates, gases and/or waterborne) present in the environment surrounding the vicinity of a 'bomb factory'. The different sensors are specifically designed to be deployed in sensitive locations and easily camouflaged. This network will support the 'factory's location', allowing an early threat thwart. A feasibility study will assess the usefulness and potential advantages that the BONAS concept will bring about in the future and the costs of mass production of sensor networks integrating COTS components.

BONAS intends also to investigate and prepare the potential future deployment of key sensors aboard a flying platform with a view towards increasing the BONAS network detection capabilities. The wireless sensor network will feature a variety of sensing devices (in-situ and remote), that will jointly provide broad chemical spread and low false alarm rates through an expert system management of the data collected.

In particular, BONAS will develop: Lidar/Dial system; QEPAS sensor; SERS sensor; an Immunosensor. BONAS includes a multidisciplinary team of leading European research groups (ENEA, QUB, CSEM, ONE, UCBL, UNIL, KCL) together with industrial organizations (CREO, LDI, SAB, TEK, EADS) and end-users (NBI) with previous experience and activity in the field of specific local and remote sensors development and with experience on Security projects. The consortium represents the complete supply chain of the proposed product, which sets good perspectives for exploitation and commercialization of the generated innovations. The consortium will be supported by an already established Advisory Board formed by experts from the main European and Israeli police corps.

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For further information and images please contact Katherine Barnes, International Press Officer at King’s College London, on 0207 848 3076 or email

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