National security secret at U of L?

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - October's cargo scare that grounded some freight planes brought national security concerns back to the forefront.

WAVE 3 has learned that research at U of L could help U.S. officials in their fight against terror.

It's been in the works since 2001 on the campus in labs like inside the Shumaker Building.  Students and officials say it could hold a huge piece of national security.

"It makes existing equipment more sensitive so it's helping to improve the quality of our security," said Zachary Allen.

Students have been working on this device for awhile.  It's about the size of 3 stacks of playing cards, but it's not a game; it could help stack the deck against criminals' plans.

Inside is a sponge about half-the-size of a dime and it could be a major means to sniffing out explosives being shipped in and around the United States.

"The smart sponge is really a micro-fabricated chip that has a little membrane on it and a heater and at room temperature it collects vapors selectively.  You put a special coating on here and it can selectively collect certain explosive vapors and then you release the vapors by simply heating it," said Mike Martin with U of L.

It may sound complicated, but it only takes seconds.  Once the results come back, security officials can determine whether there is dangerous cargo on board.

"We're doing a project that's new that hasn't been done before and we just can't look up the answers in a book," Allen said.

Several government agencies - like the Department of Homeland Security - have expressed an interest.

In fact, The Transportation Security Lab has much of the equipment right now... testing it out with the possibility of using the technology on a national scale.

"It's good to know that we're just not doing something for a great it's something that could be helpful," Allen said.

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