Humanitarian Demining

The Landmine and Unexploded Ordnance Menace: “I have seen the devastation caused by these indiscriminate weapons, which hamper reconstruction, damage the environment and cause grievous injuries and death for decades after conflicts end. My fervent hope is that the world will one day be free from the threats caused by landmines and explosive remnants of war” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon

Every day people lose their lives to landmines and other explosive remnants of conflict – and the majority of these victims are civilians [1].  At the same time, approaches to clearing landmines and unexploded ordnance are still rooted in technologies developed in the 1940s.  When applied to the field of humanitarian demining – clearing landmines post-conflict – where the requirement is that 100% of landmines present in an area be removed, they are time-consuming, labour-intensive, and can be dangerous.

The current area of focus of the HT Lab in this area is AQUAREOS: Advanced Quadrupole Resonance Explosives Ordnance Sensor, a project to develop a confirmation sensor for humanitarian demining efforts, sponsored by UK-based charity Find A Better Way.

New technologies for Humanitarian Demining

“To clear the 110 million active landmines in place using current technologies would cost an estimated $30 billion and take over 1,000 years. We’re helping to Find A Better Way.”  Mission Statement of the UK-based Find A Better Way Charity [2].

The Humanitarian Demining team within the Humanitarian Technologies Lab, Department of Informatics has 20+ years of experience in this area:

  • Dr Jamie Barras: 20 years’ experience of explosives detection research employing radiofrequency spectroscopy funded by UK Home Office, MoD & dstl
  • Dr Thrish Nanayakkara: Years of direct experience of mine clearance research in Sri Lanka, and, most recently, an Ingenious Award from the Royal Academy of Engineers (RAE) to improve public engagement skills of UK based researchers on technologies for humanitarian demining
  • Kaspar Althoefer: Long-standing expertise in sensor signal classification for explosives and mine detection, through funding from UK Home Office, MoD, dstl and a Knowledge Transfer Partnership award with mine clearance equipment manufacturer, Guartel Technologies
  • Dr Panagotis Kosmas: 5 years’ experience at the NSF-funded Centre of Subsurface Sensing and Imaging Systems (CenSSiS), Boston, USA, working on data processing models for land-mine detection using ground penetrating radar

The current area of focus is AQUAREOS: Advanced Quadrupole Resonance Explosives Ordnance Sensor, a project to develop a confirmation sensor for humanitarian demining efforts, sponsored by UK-based charity Find A Better Way [C].

Concept drawing for AQUAREOS System

Concept drawing for AQUAREOS System

The key novelty of AQUAREOS is the transfer of expertise in advanced signal processing and detection methods from other technologies to quadrupole resonance (QR), which is a spectroscopic technique that uses harmless radio-waves to study the chemical structure of solid materials.  For this project for FABW, the KCL team are building on their experience of producing a QR system-in-a-suitcase for medicines authentication (a project led by Prof Althoefer and Dr Barras), by taking our tried-and-tested laboratory set-up and turning it into a mobile platform – the AQUAREOS (Advanced Quadrupole Resonance Explosives Ordnance Sensor) platform – capable of being used by demining teams in a variety of environments as a confirmation sensor as part of their mine clearance efforts.

The project centres on the fact that QR signals from the explosive content of the mine act as a chemical signature that can confirm that a suspect object in the ground is or is not a buried mine.  We can use radio-waves to read these chemical signatures.  We do this by sending out radio-waves in bursts and between the bursts we listen for the signals coming back from the explosives at frequencies that are specific to this or that explosive.


  1. Althoefer, J. Barras, N. F. Peirson, T. J. Rayner, M. D. Rowe, J. A. S. Smith and A. D. Stevens, “Magnetic Field-cycling 1H NMR and 14N & 17O quadrupole interactions in the explosive PETN”, J. Magn. Reson., 2010, 204, 139 – 144