Washing away land mines

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On August 15, 2002

Ridding the world of land mines isn’t child’s play, but UMR researcher David Summers has learned a thing or two about neutralizing the deadly explosives from, of all things, a child’s plastic water pistol.

"When a child gets a hold of a water pistol and is spraying things at random, the child probably doesn’t notice that when the water hits different surfaces it makes a different noise," says Summers, Curators’ Professor of mining engineering and director of UMR’s Rock Mechanics and Explosives Research Center. Summers, who is leading UMR’s efforts to use waterjets to find land mines, says the squirt gun principle applies in his research. The use of waterjets will not only make it easier to find land mines, but also will make it possible to destroy them without causing an explosion, Summers says.

"By using a waterjet we focus on the humanitarian side of demining," says Summers. "We are trying to help find a way for countries to get rid of land mines without the danger that is normally involved. These mines are the cause of many civilian casualties." Not a lot of progress has been made in land mine detection since World War II, when state-of-the-art mine-detection technology was a soldier’s bayonet, Summers says.

Through a $668,000 sub-contract from the Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) for the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), Summers and his colleagues are developing a new kind of waterjet to detect land mines. This project follows on the heels of a five-year project funded by the DOD in which UMR led a consortium of five universities — UMR, the University of Missouri-Columbia, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Kansas and the University of Texas at Arlington — to explore myriad ways to neutralize land mines.

UMR’s waterjet approach to mine detection involves spraying a stream of water on the ground, then listening to the sound it makes. From this reading, researchers can detect an abnormality in the ground and possibly uncover a land mine. This method is faster than the traditional method of using a metal rod to probe the ground every two inches, says Daryl Beetner, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at UMR, who heads up this area of the research.

Next, instead of digging the mine up by hand and endangering the excavator, a remotely controlled tool fitted with a waterjet would do the job. This involves a hollow tube on the tool with waterjets that spin around it, while a second system creates a vacuum in the tube. Greg Galecki, research assistant professor of rock mechanics, who is in charge of this portion of the program at UMR, says this device will remove all the soil covering half of the mine in about 10 seconds.

Normally, after a land mine is unearthed, it is blown up. But a waterjet can destroy the mine without making it explode. "A waterjet is used to cut the mine horizontally in two," says Summers. "This cuts right through everything, including the fuse, without setting it off." This method effectively destroys the mine without endangering the person directly working with it or others in the area, says Summers.

The aim of the program is to develop a system which will cost under $10,000 — a reasonable price compared to other methods being contemplated, Summers says.

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On August 15, 2002. Posted in News