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Office Hours

Inside the Applied Sciences Laboratory


Hergen Eilers, the first senior research scientist at WSU's Applied Sciences Laboratory, in Spokane, gave a 40-minute recap of three key projects he's heading, all involving advanced work in physics and optics.

His remarks came during a recent yearly meeting explaining the ASL's progress, now starting its sixth year.

One project is to develop a better way of using lasers to locate and then eliminate the threat of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Those buried bombs account for half of all U.S. casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, Eilers said at the meeting.

His project is funded by the U.S. Defense Department. It involves using lasers to identify the trickle of tiny electrons emitted by the explosives inside IEDs. The laser can be configured to find the electrons as they vaporize, he said.

Another laser sensor is used to identify the exact location of the explosive.

Eigen has two other defense department projects: one involves testing ways to fully incinerate biological threats; the other is developing a more accurate way to identify nuclear material at transportation checkpoints.

Current detectors still have difficulty with false positives. Bananas and cat litter are among the substances that produce false positives.

Eilier's sensors also need to find nuclear substances shielded by other materials.

A recap of this week's story on the ASL's recent growth will be found, starting later tonight, at


Tom Sowa
Tom Sowa covers technology, retail and economic development and writes the Office Hours blog.