New Technology to Detect Illegal Nuclear Cargo at Ports and Borders


Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories have developed new glass scintillators to detect suspicious nuclear material at borders and ports. The new scintillators are cheap, effective and more stable than the current scintillators in use.

Scintillators, which produce bright light when struck by radiation, are used extensively by the US Government in homeland security as radiation detectors. By observing the amount of light produced, and how quickly, the source of radiation may be identified.

Dr Patrick Feng, who led the Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation project, began to develop new types of scintillators in 2010, in order to “strengthen national security by improving the cost-to-performance ratio of radiation detectors”. To improve this ratio, he had to “bridge the gap” between effective scintillators made from expensive materials, and affordable but far less effective models.

Although there are many types of scintillator available, the best-performing scintillators are made from trans-stilbene. This crystallised form of a molecule allows border security tell the difference between gamma rays, which appear naturally everywhere, and neutrons, which are often associated with threatening materials such as plutonium and uranium, by producing a bright light in response.

The gold standard scintillator material for the past 40 years has been the crystalline form of a molecule called trans-stilbene, despite intense research to develop a replacement. Trans-stilbene is highly effective at differentiating between two types of radiation: gamma rays, which are ubiquitous in the environment, and neutrons, which emanate almost exclusively from controlled threat materials such as plutonium or uranium. Trans-stilbene is very sensitive to these materials, producing a bright light in response to their presence.

These crystals, however, are too fragile and expensive (around S1,000 per cubic inch)  to be used in the field, and instead, security personnel will tend to use plastic-based scintillators, which can be moulded into large shapes but are ineffective at differentiating between different types of radiation or detecting weak sources.

In order to find a good alternative, Dr Feng and his team at Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore, CA, began to experiment with organic glass components, which are capable of discriminating between different types of radiation.

Tests demonstrated that scintillators made with organic glass performed even better than the trans-stilbene scintillators in radiation detection tests.

The researchers were able to improve their design further when they drew a parallel between the behaviour of LEDs, which produce light when electrical energy is applied, and scintillators, which respond to radioactive sources. They found that adding fluorine, which is used in some LEDs, into the scintillator components helped stabilise them. This allowed for the organic glass to be melted down and cast into large blocks without becoming cloudy or crystallising upon cooling.

The result was an indefinitely stable scintillator able to differentiate between non-threatening radioactive sources, such as those used in medical treatments, and those which could constitute threats. The organic glass components are cheap and easy to manufacture, and do not degrade over time.

Next, the researchers will cast a large prototype for field testing, and hopefully demonstrate that the scintillator can withstand environmental wear and tear, for instance, due to the humidity of ports where checks are carried out. They also hope to adjust the scintillator to distinguish between safe sources of gamma radiation, and those which could be used to make “dirty bombs”. Source: Sandia Laboratory


AS&E introduces ground-breaking imaging system

Mini Z, the handheld technology from American Science and Engineering (AS&E), has been designed to offer port security officials an innovative new tool to combat contraband and illicit substances on ships.

Hailed as the world’s first handheld Z backscatter imaging system, the Mini Z aims to provide security officials with the ability to screen ‘the hulls and bulkheads of suspected drug-running boats for contraband or narcotics’, according to a company press release.

The Mini Z boasts the ability to scan in places that other systems cannot reach, while being easy-to-use and offering advanced X-ray imaging to present a real-time picture of ship and vehicle contents.

The Mini Z system is a game-changer for law enforcement and border security officials who are constantly challenged to quickly and accurately detect potential threats in hard-to-reach environments.

For an interactive introduction to the MINI Z, click here

Source: AS&E

The Scary New Technology of Iris Scanners

Picture: Ben Mortimer

Picture: Ben Mortimer

The technology of ‘Minority Report‘ is closer than you think, according to Russell Brandom writing in  A company called AOptix recently unveiled its latest creation, pitched as a game-changer in the world of iris recognition. In less grandiose terms, it’s basically an iPhone case for cops, providing military-grade biometric scanning on the move. The AOptix shell is built to provide everything an officer needs to process a suspect on the spot. There’s a fingerprint scanner on the back, the capacity for facial recognition, and the new guest at the party: an iris scanner. The camera’s a little tricky — you have to hold it a little less than a foot away, and keep it steady for a few seconds — but otherwise, using the Stratus is like taking pictures with a heavier, clunkier iPhone. Crucially, it’s small enough to hold with just one hand, so the officer using it can still reach for his gun.

The Stratus has only been on the market a few weeks, but AOptix is already pitching it for use at border crossings and in airport security. The US Department of Defense is interested too, and provided a $3 million grant for AOptix to develop the tech further. Once it’s normalized, scanning your iris could become as routine as swiping a credit card. “We really feel it’s going to be an inflection point in the biometrics industry,” AOptix marketing director Joey Pritikin told The Verge. “We can do business, we can conduct health care, we can go to disaster areas. This will really open up new markets.” After years of lurking in the margins, AOptix thinks iris scanning is ready for the big time.

Outside of the West, it’s already there. Hundreds of millions of Indians have already been iris-printed, along with thousands of Iraqi civilians and anyone who goes through customs regularly in Dubai. It’s the gold standard of a modern ID program, easier than fingerprinting and more stable than facial recognition. All you have to do is look at the camera and open your eyes. And unlike in retinal scans, the scanner doesn’t need to be up close. It’s just a photograph, taken in infrared, which in theory could work if taken from across the room.

If this sounds familiar, it’s probably because you saw something like it in Minority Report, where omnipresent eye-flashers identify everyone who walks through a public plaza, targeting ads at them and feeding the police information about their every move. Even Pritikin acknowledges the precedent, saying, “Tom Cruise did not do us any favors.” But within the industry, the product is less exotic, just the latest and best solution to the persistent problem of quick, reliable identification. What does the world look like when proving ID is as easy as taking a photograph? Like it or not, we’re about to find out.

Iris Scanner (Picture: Ben Mortimer)

Iris Scanner (Picture: Ben Mortimer)

If you find yourself flying into Dubai, you can see it in action. The city’s airport recently made the switch to an automated two-gate customs system, also made by AOptix. Scanning your passport opens the first gate; an iris print opens the second. Once the system is fully deployed, the company says it will bring wait times down from 49 minutes to 22 seconds. A private company called Clear is already trying this on an opt-in basis in the US. In exchange for a quick iris scan, their service will let you skip security in half a dozen American airports.

The bargain is simple enough: In exchange for one more biometric, you get to skip an hour in customs, or the indignity of a TSA checkpoint search. And as an ID technology, it simply works better. It’s less invasive, harder to fake (although still possible), and more effective at everything we want ID tech to be good at. Of course, that same effectiveness makes a Minority Report future all the more plausible.

For countries with national ID programs, this Orwellian scenario is already starting to play out. In collaboration with MorphoTrust, India has already iris-printed 350 million of its citizens as part of its national ID program, and they’re on track to scan all 1.2 billion. This year, Mexico will roll out the first iris-matched ID cards in the world as part of a $25 million program. In both cases, the ID will help stop fraud and provide poverty assistance, helping solve half a dozen urgent humanitarian issues at once. Despite these good intentions, this kind of mass identification has civil libertarians very worried.

“The concern is that biometrics will be used for the mass tracking of individuals,” according to Jay Stanley of the American Civil Liberties Union. “If that kind of ID system becomes routine and widespread, it turns us into a kind of checkpoint society.” Even in India, the system is still only used at police stations and government offices, but once the print is connected to a universal ID, it’s easy to imagine iris scans becoming as commonplace as pulling out a driver’s license.

For now, we’re left with less invasive devices like the Stratus, an iris camera aimed squarely at US law enforcement. The FBI is already building an iris system to track persons of interest, and it’s not hard to see them using a Stratus-like device to collect prints. Iris cameras haven’t landed in the hands of beat cops yet, but AOptix is trying its best to get them there. The path of the technology, from the military to local law enforcement, is almost complete. The only question is what it will look like when it gets here. Source:


Advanced security imaging technology

DebTech is the technology business unit of De Beers, one of the top ranking diamond mining companies in the world. DebTech specialises in the development, manufacture, supply and worldwide support of innovative products and services for applications in diamond exploration, sorting and security.

The Scannex full body, low dose, X-ray scanning system was developed during the early 1990s for the primary purpose of deterring the theft of diamonds by diamond mine employees. The Scannex unit has application in many areas where contraband detection is required, such as airports, international sports events, prisons, border control and other high security installations.

The system produces high resolution and high contrast full body X-ray images of personnel. A single scan takes approximately ten seconds and the person being scanned remains stationary and is protected from the moving parts of the machine. The X-ray level required per scan is equivalent to that experienced on a two hour international flight. This allows an individual to be scanned up to 200 times per year and still not exceed the US Department of Health recommended safe limit for public exposure. The images are displayed on digital monitors and trained image analysts are able to identify items of a nonanatomical nature that may be concealed on or within the body.

To assist in the identification of foreign objects, human anatomical features are de-emphasized in the displayed images. This has the additional advantage of protecting the dignity of the individual being scanned. The display software comes standard with several image enhancement functions to further assist identification of suspect items. The display system is designed such that the viewing monitors can be located remotely from the scanning booth. This not only contributes to the protection of the scanned subject’s privacy but also decreases the opportunity for collusion between the scanned subject,the scanner operator and the image analyst. Up to four monitors may be connected to a single scanner to increase the rate of people being scanned. At the De Beers Namibian operations up to 90 scans per hour have been regularly achieved through one unit.

The Scannex system is optimised to differentiate diamond,a material with relatively low X-ray absorption properties, from human anatomical features. This also enables the system to indicate the presence of other materials with similar low X-ray absorption properties, such as explosives, drugs, plastic fluid containers and syringes. Metallic items, including knives, guns and detonator wire are very prominent in the full body images by virtue of their significantly higher X-ray absorption properties.

For counter terror and border control applications that do not require the high performance characteristics of the original Scannex unit, DebTech is currently developing a smaller footprintand lower capital cost addition to the Scannex range. This is planned to be available late 2012. For the full report click here! Sources: Port Technology International and