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News

Gamma camera help find land mines

CSIRO : 19 December, 2001  (Technical Article)
A research team from CSIRO Minerals is developing a novel 3D imaging camera as part a worldwide push for faster and safer ways to clear land mines. The United Nations estimates that 26,000 people are killed or maimed each year by land mines. Of these, 80 per cent are civilians, especially women, children and farmers in developing countries.
Dr James Tickner is developing the technology as part of a UN project investigating the application of nuclear techniques to find and identify anti-personnel land mines.

'The experience of being part of the United Nations project and meeting with active de-miners has been invaluable,' says Dr Tickner.

'We now have a realistic picture of what is needed in the field. These people could be trusting their lives with the instruments we are developing,' he says.

'Our modeling work suggests that the 3D imaging technology will rapidly and accurately reveal the size, shape and density of buried objects. We are now conducting a feasibility study and hope to demonstrate a simple proof-of-concept instrument within the next few months.' says Dr Tickner.

The proposed camera is based on gamma rays and will have significant advantages over existing detectors.

'One of the biggest problems with conventional methods is the large number of false alarms. Our camera should give the operator enough information to weed out the false alarms without having to physically examine the object - reducing risk and saving time.'

'It has the potential to detect landmines buried at greater depths than existing methods, and can be built from cheap, rugged and light weight components. The radiation source is low strength, posing negligible risk to the operator.'

The work is being funded directly by CSIRO Minerals. Once the gamma-camera has been successfully demonstrated in the laboratory, an opportunity may exist for private and public sector investors to share in the commercialisation of a field instrument.

An estimated 60-100 million landmines are buried in over 60 countries, mostly in unknown locations. The Red Cross has estimated that to destroy just the existing mines with current methods and clearing at the current rate, would take over 1000 years.

The conventional approach to detecting landmines is to use sniffer dogs and metal detectors. Delicate prodding of the ground is then used to determine the exact position and orientation of the mine without detonating it.

'Relying on metal detection is especially difficult as many mines used today have extremely low metal contents. This makes the work of finding landmines slow and dangerous,' says Dr Tickner.

'There is a push worldwide to come up with smarter ways of demining,' says Dr Tickner. 'People are exploring a variety of techniques including ground-penetrating radar, radio-frequency methods, thermal and visible imaging, acoustic techniques (especially for underwater mines) and X-ray or neutron based sensing technologies.'

'Current demining research suggests that no single device is going to be adequate for locating and identifying all types of mines under the wide variety of field conditions encountered. The world-wide aim is to build up a suite of technologies. Local demining experts can then select technologies appropriate to their circumstances.'

The work is being conducted by the Online Analysis and Control group at CSIRO Minerals' laboratory in Lucas Heights, Sydney. The group is managed by Dr Nick Cutmore.

The United Nations project is coordinated by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and CSIRO Minerals has been involved since 1999.

Science behind the new device

The proposed CSIRO Minerals' camera is based on a novel gamma-ray imaging technique invented by the group called PACSI (positron annihilation Compton scattering imaging). The camera uses a small radioisotope source that produces antimatter electrons (called positrons for their positive charge).

In accordance with Einstein's famous equation E=mc2, the positrons interact with electrons in ordinary matter. Both particles disappear and are replaced by pure energy in the form of gamma-rays. By measuring how these gamma-rays scatter from the ground, it is possible to build up a 3D map of the ground beneath the detector and any objects it contains.
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