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New Microwave Tool to the Rescue

July/August 1996

Rescue workers trying to locate earthquake and bomb survivors buried under tons of rubble may soon have a new tool: a device no bigger than a bread box that emits microwaves which penetrate stone, masonry, and wire to "listen" for the weakest heart beat, breathing or movement.

NSF-supported electrical engineer, Kun-Mu Chen, of Michigan State University, developed a microprocessor-controlled system that can separate microwaves reflected off human victims and the rubble around them. The system is superior to all existing tools used to find buried survivors, the researcher says. Dogs can only sniff out people under less than a meter of debris. Sound sensors can hear survivors call out but are useless with unconscious or severely weak or immobile victims, and paths for fiber optic snake lights can be blocked by rubble.

A prototype of Chen's system was tested by Federal Emergency Management Agency officials last summer and is now undergoing refinements in his lab.

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