NRL-Developed Technology Used to Protect U.S. Forces Overseas

11/18/1999 - 62-99r
Contact: Public Affairs Office, (202) 767-2541

Technology originally developed by Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) scientists for explosives and narcotics detection has been produced by industry and is now being purchased by the U.S. Navy for the protection of U.S. forces overseas.

The technology is based on nuclear quadrupole resonance (NQR). Dr. Allen Garroway and his colleagues in NRL's Chemistry Division pioneered the practical use of NQR for explosives and narcotics detection. These scientists developed and patented specialized NQR, magnetic resonance techniques similar to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) used in hospitals. Unlike MRI, no magnets are required. In NQR, a radio frequency pulse "interrogates" the specimen. The return signal, at a frequency somewhat above the conventional AM radio band, indicates the presence of explosives or narcotics.

This technology was exclusively licensed to Quantum Magnetics, Inc. San Diego, CA in 1993. Using this NRL-licensed technology, Quantum Magnetics demonstrated an NQR explosive detection system at the United Kingdom airports of Manchester and London-Heathrow and at airports in Los Angeles, CA, and Atlanta, GA .

The scanner is highly sensitive in its ability to screen postal packages, briefcases, and other small baggage for the presence of explosives and illegal drugs. In laboratory settings, NQR was found to improve the selectivity, sensitivity and spatial localization over conventional detection systems, allowing small quantities of explosives and narcotics to be detected against a background of more benign materials.

Recently, the U.S. Navy purchased an NQR inspection system for examining mail at U.S. Navy facilities overseas. The Navy will deploy the system at an international location and will evaluate its performance as it scans mail for explosives.

In recognition for his work, Dr. Garroway was presented the 1996 Federal Laboratory Consortium's "Excellence in Technology Transfer Award." In 1995, NRL and Quantum Magnetics, Inc. were named recipients of an "R&D 100 Award" from R&D Magazine for the NQR package scanner. The award, which the Chicago Tribune has called "the Oscars of Inventions," recognizes the 100 most technologically significant new products of the year.

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