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Threat detection at US ports

Technology used to track subatomic particles is at the heart of a rapid scanning system that identifies illegal or dangerous goods at U.S. ports and borders.

Particle physics research helped create a rapid, radiation-free cargo scanning system.

Particle physics research helped create a rapid, radiation-free cargo scanning system.
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June 1, 2018

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After the attack on New York's Twin Towers, the 9/11 Commission recommended screening all cargo containers entering the U.S. But, inspecting 12 million cargo containers annually presents a challenge. Existing X-ray technology is expensive, produces ionizing radiation and requires trained operators to review each scan.

However, a new approach called the Multi-Mode Passive Detection System (MMPDS) provides rapid, in-line scanning of cargo for both security threats and illegal shipments. The system is completely automated and produces no radiation. The MMPDS detector technology is based in part on NSF-funded particle physics research that was originally developed to find and track subatomic particles for nuclear and high-energy physics experiments. The technology, used in Freeport, Bahamas, will soon be deployed in Singapore and the U.S.

NSF Directorate(s):
Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences


Related Awards
#0244889 A Program of Medium Energy Nuclear Physics
#0601067 A Program of Medium Energy Nuclear Physics

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