Posted October 27, 2002 Atlanta
ScanTech Sciences Inc., a new member company of Georgia Tech's Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC), has developed an electron beam / X-ray that can peer into steel shipping containers and other large receptacles. Since the September 11 terrorist attacks, experts have warned that a "dirty bomb" or other threats could be smuggled to the United States via cargo containers.
"We generate some of the highest-intensity security inspection X-rays in the world," says Dolan Falconer, ScanTech's chief executive officer. "Our X-rays can penetrate 14 to 16 inches of steel or the equivalent, so we focus on the big stuff -- 40-foot sea-land shipping containers, railroad cars, semi-trucks, and pallets shipped by air."
ScanTech employs patented techniques that can also be used to sterilize food, pharmaceuticals and other materials. The ScanTech approach evolved out of the 1980s Soviet defense research program. In work that was analogous to the U.S. Star Wars program, Russian scientists developed electron accelerators, trying to make them practical as a space-based weapon.
ScanTech has two basic technologies, both of which use a powerful 10-million-volt electron beam.
For container inspection, a "dual-beam, dual energy" system uses X-rays of differing spectrums to peer through thick steel walls. Then proprietary software lets the operator tell whether what's inside is legitimate cargo or something more sinister, such as explosives or illegal drugs.
"Our software uses the dual energy beams to determine the characteristics of the material in a shipping container and help discriminate what type of material it is," Falconer says. "For example, we will find a 'dirty bomb' hidden in legitimate cargo."
For sterilization applications, ScanTech uses radiation from a single non X-ray electron beam to kill bacteria or viruses via a heat-free radiation process. Unlike the cobalt-based devices widely used for food irradiation currently, ScanTech technology uses no radioactive material and offers no residual hazards when powered down.