Peaceful Pursuits

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N. B. Rinehart

Military drone technology has come a long way since the Austrians attached bombs to balloons in their 1849 attack on Venice.

Graduate students at the UW’s Fusion Technology Institute, directed by renowned nuclear engineering professor emeritus Gerald Kulcinski ’61, MS’62, PhD’66, have developed a more peaceful use for the technology: a drone that hovers a meter above ground and can detect explosives buried in war zones.

The technology is transformative because it uses neutron activation to ferret out specific bombs with a device small enough to be mounted on a drone. As the device irradiates the ground with neutrons, it activates nitrogen found in explosives, which then produces gamma rays the drone can detect.

“The benefits are obvious for this application — potentially saving soldiers’ lives,” says Kevin Johnson ’15, MSx’17. “But it extends beyond things we don’t even know about right now.”

NASA and the U.S. military have expressed interest in the technology, but Kulcinski anticipates another year or two of development before it’s ready to be funded to completion and used in the field.

Published in the Fall 2016 issue

Tags: Research, Science

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