Fall 2004 Table of Contents.
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 New & Now.


Cultural Contributions

Feeling the Heat

Bombs Away

Ancient Astronomy

Critical Inquiry

Upbeat Elders


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Bombs Away

For people living in more than 70 nations around the world, land mines and unexploded ordnance pose a substantial risk to life and limb. According to figures compiled by the United Nations, as many as 100 million land mines are buried across the globe, their potentially lethal explosive charges poised to shatter, in an instant, the life of any soldier or civilian unfortunate enough to encounter them.

Tragically, each year the list of these unfortunates grows longer. The Geneva-based International Campaign to Ban Landmines, recipient of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, estimates that some 15,000 to 20,000 people are hurt by land mines and unexploded bombs each year, most of them civilians living in countries that are now at peace.

Locating and removing unexploded mines has long been a shared goal of governments and aid groups. Even under the best of circumstances, however, removal is an expensive, dangerous proposition. But now, thanks to the work of an MU researcher, cleaning up our war trash may be getting easier.

Dominic Ho, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at MU, is working with the U.S. Army and researchers from Florida and Duke universities to build a better mine detector. He has already come up with improvements that will substantially boost the performance of land mine detection systems.

Ho's contribution is focused on perfecting ground-penetrating radar, an essential part of any mine-finding mechanism. A key to improving radar's ability to locate mines, he explains, is eliminating false detections caused by so-called clutter objects -- the metal debris, plant roots and rocks that typically litter mine fields. By comparing how signals produced by actual land mines differ from those of the junk, Ho and his colleagues have developed new "automatic signal-processing algorithms" that are sensitive enough to cut through the clutter. When perfected, these will enhance the performance of both handheld systems, the most common form of detection device, as well as next-generation, vehicle-based systems.

Although vehicle-based systems are still in development, Ho says one version of his enhanced handheld systems is already being used in Iraq and Afghanistan. For the Army, with whom Ho has a $500,000 contract, the improved mine-detection devices will have obvious advantages. Civilians, particularly those living in formerly conflict-riven areas of Asia, Africa, Central America and the Middle East, will also benefit.

"We always want to avoid casualties, and the goal is to clear those dangerous devices and preserve the lives of soldiers," says Ho. "It's a mess created by humans. It's not nature. We're trying to solve the problem we created."

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©2006 Curators of the University of Missouri. Click here to contact the editor.