Reporter 447, 21 February 2000

Future illuminated by a £2m laser

Pioneering technology capable of picking out explosives and firearms made of plastic could be developed within twenty years through a major new initiative in electronic and electrical engineering.

The research team - headed by Professor Michael Steer - have scooped £2m to construct one of the largest laser systems in the world.

Light years ahead: Michael Steer, front, flanked by his research team, from left, Bob Miles, Paul Harrison, Godfrey Beddard, Stavros Iezekiel, Rob Kelsall and Roger Pollard

The joint infrastructure fund award will be used to create facilities unparalleled in the world, which will drive the next generation of mobile phones and microwave engineering applications.

"Current systems do not have enough capacity to connect different types of electronic equipment," said Professor Steer. "For example, you cannot video a film and then transmit it to a home computer. Moving to higher millimetre wave frequencies will allow this."

The higher frequency rays are less harmful than the more-powerful X-rays currently used and will allow medical scans to be obtained by shining a harmless light at people.

The giant laser will also help the researchers pick out the natural radiation given off by objects. This has hundreds of practical applications, ranging from being able to identify weapons concealed beneath clothing to instantly totting up the price of a week’s shopping by scanning a trolley-full of goods.

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