Hawaiian professor develops new bioweapon sensor

Researchers at the University of Hawaii and a Honolulu start-up company have developed a hyperspectral sensor system that may be able to detect harmful substances, including those involved in biological and chemical weapons, as well as those in the research, commercial and military industries.  

Paul Lucey, a professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa's Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology and the man behind the system, has received more than $14 million in competitive grants over the last twenty years. His previous projects have included studying the composition of the moon's crust, building sensors for compositional analysis of rocks on Mars and a space-based camera to map coral reefs.

The hyperspectral technology uses information that ranges from ultraviolet to infared light to identify biological and chemical fingerprints, known as spectral signatures. This system could be used to detect specific signatures connected with dangerous substances and relay analysis information for humans to understand.

Similar systems in the past that were the size of a refrigerator have cost nearly $1 million each, but Lucey has used the Sagnac interferometer in creating his detection system. The Sagnac interferometer costs less than $50,000.

"The real advantage was we put together this spatial interferometry and coupled it with these new infared detectors," Lucey said.

A recent field test at the Army's Dugway Proving Ground in Utah found that the system was able to accurately detect chemical weapon signatures from a distance of three kilometers.