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To Detect Bombs Before They’re Used, Sweden Is Looking at Its Sewers

The EU’s Emphasis Project is designed to detect people manufacturing IED’s

Memorial in London dedicated to the memory of the people who died in the bombings of July 7, 2005 (Alan Copson/Robert Harding World Imagery/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Improvised Explosive Devices, or IEDs are a scourge in war zones like Syria and Iraq, but they also have found their way into cities like London and Madrid, too. Now, researchers are developing ways to detect bombs before they make it to their intended target—while they’re still being made.

Rooting out bomb makers is difficult when deadly devices can be created inexpensively in a person’s home or apartment using non-specialized materials. 

"They have chemicals you buy in a normal supermarket, and they are using them to make bombs," researcher Henric Oestmark told the BBC

But Oestmark and his fellow researchers in Sweden, the BBC reports, are working on ways to detect the bomb manufacturing process itself, starting in the sewers. With all the chemicals needed to create a bomb, some of the material inevitably gets flushed down a drain, and into the sewage system. Researchers are working on developing sensors that can pick up those chemical signatures amongst the sewage, alert law enforcement and narrow down the search area. 

The sewage detection system is part of an EU-backed project is called EMPHASIS, which also focuses on detecting fumes from bomb manufacturing, with sensors placed around a city or metropolitan area. 

Other researchers are working on nano-sensors that can detect bombs more reliably than bomb-sniffing dogs, and sensors that can use sound to detect how powerful an explosive device is, before it goes off.  

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