Bechtel, Merritts, and students explore different sensors to identify landmines

By Steven Viera || News Editor

Timothy Bechtel, visiting professor of geosciences, is part of an international team that is tasked with developing an effective, inexpensive, and easy to use system for identifying and disposing of landmines in areas around the world. At F&M, Bechtel is assisted on this project by Dorothy Merritts, the Harry W. and Mary B. Huffnagle Professor of Geosciences and chair of the Earth and Environment Department, as well as a number of student
researchers.

Funded by a NATO Science for Peace and Security Program grant, Bechtel and his colleagues plan on building remote-controlled robots that non-experts, such as farmers and members of non-government organizations, can be trained to use, according to this article from F&M’s news website. Bechtel’s specific charge as part of the international effort is to figure out which landmine detection sensors will be best for the robot, noting a number of possible options, such as infrared or metal detection.

“No single device works in all conditions, so we want to test all available devices to find the best combination of sensors,” he said in the F&M News article.

Landmines come in two main types: anti-personnel and anti-tank. Anti-personnel mines are small and designed to maim, while anti-tank are larger and designed to disable vehicles. Bechtel discussed that landmines, particularly anti-personnel, are often deployed at strategic locations within civilian areas.

“If there is a critical well in a village, whoever controls the village will mine it and know where the mines are so they can use the water,” he said in the F&M News article. “If they were to lose the village to the opposing combatants, then somebody will get maimed, if not killed, trying to get water.”

Aside from his current project, Bechtel has spent 15 years working with another international team to develop a holographic landmine sensor.

Bechtel has also been tasked with researching terrain in Eastern Ukraine, according to the F&M News article, where Ukrainians are fighting a civil war against separatists backed by Russia and the regime of Vladimir Putin. For this research, Bechtel, Merritts, and student researchers will explore Northeastern Pennsylvania, where soil moisture content and chemical composition are similar to that of Eastern Ukraine; both, in fact, are coal-producing regions.

Additionally, Bechtel plans on drawing on students outside of his researchers to complete the
project.

“We’ll be taking groups of students — focus groups, if you will — giving them minimal training and having them detect mines,” he said in the F&M News article. “We’ll be able to go and test sensors in a realistic setting not too far from F&M.”

Senior Steven Viera is the Senior Editor. His email is sviera@fandm.edu.

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