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Making light of blastproofing

MATERIALS Cutting Edge

SCIENTISTS at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh have developed sensors that could help engineers design blastproof buildings.

Professor Julian Jones and his team of researchers developed three new types of sensor using specially engineered optical fibres that respond to minute changes in the environment.

The sensors are so sensitive that they are able to monitor blast waves caused by high explosives, structural changes in tunnels, bridges and buildings.

Fibre-optic cables work with light instead of electricity and Professor Jones's team discovered they could be used to monitor different tasks.

The first sensor developed combines multiple fibre cores that measure changes over a short distance then compares them with measurements from adjacent cores to assess how a structure bends.

But he revealed that one application of the sensors was so sensitive and robust that the team would be using them to monitor blast waves, which could help design better blast resistance into buildings.

A laser is used to drill a tiny hole in the end of a fibre and cap it with a lightweight membrane.

Professor Jones said: 'These microsensors may be the fastest reacting pressure sensors in the world.We will be using them to measure blast waves. In the current climate of increased terror threat there is a huge demand for technology that could help design bombproof buildings.'