Article by Greta Horvathova, student of Oswestry school and runner up in our 2017 Science Journalism contest.
How would you react, if someone told you that somewhere close to your home lies a landmine, an old decaying casserole dish lookalike, buried in your garden, or just somewhere in the middle of the street you walk down everyday to shop for groceries, or on the playground where your children play. You would probably live in constant fear, and isolation, since your friends would be too afraid to risk their lives to visit you. Such is the power of a small round landmine – a tiny iron cap filled with highly volatile explosive, which immediately ignites a larger amount of less volatile explosive, all wrapped in a case and topped up with a pressure plate.
The scariest part? The estimated number is roughly 110 000 000 landmines scattered across more than 70 countries around the world. And since some of them are hard to detect, we won’t see a dramatic decrease in numbers any soon. The rate of demining – locating and removing mines, is 100 000 mines per year, while for every 5 000 removed one deminer is killed and two others get seriously injured. In the end, the estimated time to demine the whole world is 1 100 years, under the condition that no more mines will be planted meanwhile.
To tackle mine contamination, new technologies have to be invented. One such device, or rather a prototype had been recently successfully developed by Dr Liam Marsh from the University of Manchester. Unlike conventional mine detectors, which detect metals, this one can also “look under the ground” and tell what objects lie underneath it. This ability is useful, as many more recent mines contain a little or almost no metal and therefore can be easily looked over, presenting an even greater danger to deminers and civilians.
So, what’s the science behind this great enhancement?
Inside the newly produced prototype, a special type of ground penetrating radar (GPR) is contained. Normally, GPR devices sendoff waves which enter the ground; and if there is an object below the ground, the waves will bounce off of it and go back to the device, where they are collected. The result is a beep suggesting the machine found something and that this something is lies at a certain depth. However, the upgraded GPR used in the new generation landmine detectors is a lot more sophisticated.
It is sensitive to all sorts of different materials, like plastics, and objects like rocks. In addition, the metal detecting technology used in the prototype is able to identify and classify different metal samples. All combined, the prototype system is able to recognize the nature of an object lying beneath the ground and determine whether it ́s a dangerous explosive box, which needs to be taken care of, or just a pair of keys on a keychain someone lost when going for a walk years ago.
Although it’s only a prototype, needing more development and testing before it can glimpse the light of the day, but it has a great potential in the future of “searching for casserole dish lookalikes”, increasing the rate, sufficiency and safety of clearance. This
clever machine can bring the fear, isolation and casualties involving innocent people closer to an end, so no one has to wait for 1 100 years to move around freely.