By John Rhea
SAN DIEGO - Quadrupole resonance analysis (QRA), a variant of the magnetic resonance imaging technology commonly used in hospitals, is being investigated for detecting drugs and explosives for military and civil aviation applications.
Leaders of Quantum Magnetics in San Diego are working together with officials of the Federal Aviation Administration and the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington on programs to use QRA in various airport security applications.
Delta Air Lines officials are using an initial system at Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta, and Quantum officials have conducted field trials at international airports in Los Angeles, London, and elsewhere for United, Northwest, and British Airways.
The advantage of QRA is that it`s a go/no go system that is calibrated to detect certain substances and present a result in 6 seconds, Quantum officials say. Conventional X-ray and CAT scan technologies produce an image that security personnel must interpret. QRA is also cheaper than those other systems, company officials claim: $65,000 to $375,000 vs. $750,000 to $2 million for more conventional systems.
QRA uses low-intensity radio waves to probe the molecular structure of package contents. These waves momentarily disturb the alignment of nuclei within the contents. As the nuclei realign themselves, they emit a unique signal, which a computer analyzes.
The resulting signal, or QRA "fingerprint," then identifies the contents. More than 10,000 chemical compounds have been identified to date, none of them duplicating another. This technique can be particularly useful for detecting plastic explosives in small quantities, which explains the military`s interest, according to Quantum officials.