New Airport Screening Method May Finally End the Absurd Liquid Ban

By Ashley Feinberg on at

It looks like the days of shampoo bottles striking fear into the hearts of airport security everywhere might be numbered. Thanks to Los Alamos scientists, a new type of detection technology could give airports the tools they need to finally tell if a liquid is a potential threat—all with one simple scan.

Today, a large part of the reason we have such a limited on-board liquid allotment is that it's nearly impossible for airport security to tell the difference between liquids in-bottle. Michelle Espy, a Los Alamos Natinoal Laboratory physicist and MagRay project leader explains:

One of the challenges for the screening of liquids in an airport is that, while traditional X-ray based baggage scanners provide high throughput with good resolution of some threats, there is limited sensitivity and selectivity for liquid discrimination. While MRI can differentiate liquids, there are a certain class of explosives, those that are complex, homemade, or may have mixes of all kinds of stuff that are more challenging.

While neither X-ray or MRI techniques can confidently identify a liquid's potential threat alone, together, they become far greater the sum of their parts. With funding from the Department of Homeland Security, the team combined the two to phenomenal results. When a liquid container is scanned, a 3D space similar to the one below shows security officials where this liquid falls in terms of proton content and density, which then tells the scanner whether or not that particular liquid is safe to pass.

So far, the scientists has been able to look at a wide variety of explosives in a many different types of packaging with total success. In the video, the team members themselves even seem incredulous at how well the new scanning technology has been working. With such stellar results, hopefully it shouldn't be too long before we're lounging by our gates with all the full size toiletries and beverages we can carry, living like kings. [Los Alamos National Laboratory]

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