VIDEO: Breakthrough allows enhanced bottle scanning for airport security

11/26/2013 - 00:00

Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) scientists have advanced a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology that may provide a breakthrough for screening liquids at airport security. They’ve added low-power x-ray data to the mix, and as a result have unlocked a new detection technology. Funded in part by the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate, the new system is named MagRay.

The goal is to quickly and accurately distinguish between liquids that visually appear identical. For example, what appears to be a bottle of white wine could potentially be nitromethane, a liquid that could be used to make an explosive. Both are clear liquids, One would be perfectly safe on a commercial aircraft, the other would be strictly prohibited.  How to tell them apart quickly without error at an airport security area is the focus of Michelle Espy, Larry Schultz and their team.

“One of the challenges for the screening of liquids in an airport is that, while traditional x-ray based baggage scanners provide high throughput with good resolution of some threats, there is limited sensitivity and selectivity for liquid discrimination,” said Espy, a Los Alamos National Laboratory physicist and MagRay Project Leader. “While MRI can differentiate liquids, there are a certain class of explosives, those that are complex, homemade, or may have mixes of all kinds of stuff that are more challenging.”