Research Provides Improved Hope For Ex-Conflict Zones

Landmines are an insidious consequence of war; many lie dormant in ex-conflict zones around the world; from Croatia to Cambodia; from Afghanistan to Angola, these legacy devices blight our landscapes and continually inflict brutal injuries and even death on unsuspecting civilian populations.

To help rid the world of these unwanted devices, the charity ‘Find A Better Way’ was founded in 2011 by ex-Manchester United and England football player Sir Bobby Charlton. The charity helps by providing solutions for landmine victims and ex-conflict zones, by generating much needed funds for education and various humanitarian projects.

In addition, research money is provided for various science projects aimed to improve landmine detection and removal. Calculations predict approximately 110 million active landmines still lie dorment throughout the world which, using current technology/methodologies, will cost an estimated 30 billion dollars and take roughly ‘one thousand years’ to clear.

To help reduce these figures various research projects are currently in progress that involve a number of British institutions:

Cranfield University and UCL are developing project ‘DETERMINE,’  a three year research programme to map the electronic signatures from landmines and to develop a highly mobile ground penetrating radar system capable of searching for landmines across all terrains.’

Also, Oxford University has been assigned to a three year project that incorporates the ‘molecular detection of explosives.’ This involves the automated sampling of vapour signatures released by landmine explosives, which should see a gradual reduction of currently employed, and slightly inefficient, sniffer dog techniques.

Further projects from Furness College, Kings College, London and Manchester University are also in development. More efficient methods of detection are being researched that should help reduce ‘false positives’ (i.e. non explosive metal fragments) operators experience when using conventional detectors.

The Manchester team are developing ‘SEMIS,’ a project that involves the use of ground penetrating radar (GPR) which, when coupled with specially developed algorithms, will provide technicians with a more complete picture of underground objects: by separating landmines from non-explosive metal objects SEMIS is designed to save valuable time and expenditure—the technique should ensure all inert fragments can be identified before any needless excavations are implemented.

‘Find a Better Way’ state that ten people die every day through landmine explosions, and for every five thousand mines deactivated at least one technician is killed and two are seriously injured. It is hoped that implementation of this research will provide quicker, more efficient, techniques to aid landmine workers and to relieve already traumatised populations.

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Paul Hattle

As a strong advocate for science and learning, I am a passionate supporter of the 'Campaign for Science and Engineering' (CaSE) Fellow of the 'Royal Astronomical Society' (RAS) Associate Member of the 'Institute of Physics' (IOP) & 'The Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators' (ISTC)

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