Liquid Scanner Tested in Airport

Thursday, October 21, 2010 @ 12:10 AM gHale

Airline passengers may soon be able to bring their soft drinks and full-size shampoo bottles on board again.
Homeland security officials put the latest generation of the bottled liquid scanner to the test during a demonstration at Albuquerque’s international airport. Everything from bottled water and champagne to shampoo and pink liquid laxatives underwent scanning to make sure explosives weren’t hiding inside. Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory developed the scanner.
The device, about the size of a small refrigerator, uses magnetic resonance to read the liquids’ molecular makeup, even when the substances are in metal containers. Within 15 seconds, a light on top of the simple-looking metal box flashes red or green, depending on whether there’s danger.
The device is so sensitive it can tell the difference between red and white wine, and between different types of soda.
“What we’re doing is really looking for the real dangers, like liquid homemade explosives,” said Stephen Surko, program manager of the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency. “We’re just real excited at the progress we’re making.”
The technology is still a few years from deployment in the nation’s airports, where fears of liquid explosives have stopped passengers from bringing more than small amounts of lotions and other toiletries in their carry-on bags. Surko said the lab will have to partner with a manufacturer, and the machines will have to go through testing and certification.
With the bottled liquid scanner, Surko said Transportation Security Administration officers would be able to quickly check the liquids allowed in carry-on luggage. If the technology goes online, it may eliminate the need for passengers to stuff all their toiletry bottles — each no larger than 3.4 ounces — into a single quart-sized plastic bag.
Travelers had gotten used to being scanned, swabbed and patted down since the 9/11 attacks, but it was an alleged plot to blow up 10 trans-Atlantic airliners with liquid bombs in 2006 that prompted the U.S. to clamp down on liquids.
The restrictions have inconvenienced passengers and resulted in longer lines, but officials at the demonstration said they have yet to achieve a full measure of security.
Several passengers flying out of Albuquerque got a sneak peak of the new technology as they were passing through a security checkpoint. Most said they would feel better if officials could scan liquids allowed on a plane, but they also hoped the technology would some day allow them to take their drinks along.

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