The Technion's war on terror
The good tidings for the war on Palestinian and international terror may emanate from the laboratories of the chemistry faculty at the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.
The good tidings for the war on Palestinian and international terror may emanate from the laboratories of the chemistry faculty at the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. If current experiments at the Technion labs are successful, Israeli security forces will soon be equipped with an efficient means of responding to explosives belts worn by Palestinian suicide bombers.
The dean of the chemistry faculty, Professor Ehud Keinan, speaks about a technological breakthrough. "There are things that are still classified, but we are examining original ways of dealing with very unconventional explosives that are manufactured in the laboratories of the Palestinian terror organizations."
Professor Keinan shared his information with the U.S. umbrella organization for security technology, the TSWG (Technical Support Working Group), which includes about 80 organizations that specialize in security (for example, the CIA, FBI, Federal Aviation Administration and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.) The umbrella organization is currently preparing a tender for American companies to create a device for identifying explosives that is based on a prototype developed by Professor Keinan.
In 1986, a pipe bomb placed by terrorists in Hebron was found near Jewish residences. The police sapper who was called to the scene discovered an unidentified white substance near the device. Suddenly, the bomb detonated and the sapper was killed. An investigation found that the white explosive was TATP (triacetone triperoxide, commonly known as acetone peroxide). This type of explosive has been around since the beginning of the 20th century, but this was the first time that terror organizations had used it. And since this incident in Hebron, Prof. Keinan has been studying the substance.
Internet sites provide detailed instructions for easily producing TATP. All that is needed to prepare this chemical compound can be found in almost any home - acetone, peroxide and lemon. The mixture forms lumps that turn to powder after drying. It is an extremely dangerous explosive because the slightest friction is liable to cause it to detonate. "The world is exposed to this material and we are helpless," says Keinan. "If someone wants to bring down a Boeing 747, no one will stop him. And security officials know this."
TATP causes `work accidents'
The fact that TATP detonates easily is the reason for the numerous so-called "work accidents" in the clandestine labs set up by the Palestinians. In an article soon to be published in a scientific journal, Professor Keinan will describe the way this material works. When TATP is detonated, each solid molecule turns into four gas molecules. This means that within one microsecond, a huge volume of gas is created, and this is what causes the explosion. Most of the devices for detecting explosives operate on a group of specific chemical (nitro) materials present in all explosives. "We have developed a hand-held device called PET (Peroxide Explosives Tester) that detects TATP, and we are now working to develop a sensor for advance detection of explosives," Keinan says.
`Gov't leadership is lacking'
The terror attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, led to a flurry of activity at the Technion. A group of researchers got together with the aim of developing a technological response to terror threats against the home front. This led to the establishment of the Center for Security Science and Technology. But the founder and head of the new center, Professor Abraham Marmur of the Technion's chemical engineering department, believes that this is not sufficient. According to Marmur, Israel should learn from the United States: "The Americans established the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which brings together countless organizations and numerous authorities in order to give them a strategic view. They deal with civil defense. Only some of the measures overlap with military subjects. We, in Israel, have not organized ourselves on this matter," he says.
One of the obstacles in the way of finding technological responses to the threats posed by Palestinian terror is connected to the organizational structure of the Israeli authorities that deal with civil defense. Home front security in Israel is under military command. However, the large budgets at its disposal are used for developing military weapon systems rather than essential measures for civil defense.
Marmur: "In Israel, the national integrator on terror should be the National Security Council's Terror Combat (TC) Division. But the Terror Combat Division has no means or budgets for developing technologies for detecting and identifying terrorists or locating explosives. What is lacking is leadership on the government level. In my view, this should be headed by the prime minister."
Keinan: "The trouble in Israel is that there is very little research planned for solving long-term problems. People change positions all the time. The problem is not only the Defense Ministry. It's also the Shin Bet security service and police. Everything is done here in an atmosphere of emergency. I tried to explain the Israeli character to the Americans. We can only work under pressure. When there is no pressure, we don't work."
The Technion's Center for Security Science and Technology brings researchers from the university together with scientists working at the defense industries. Marmur, himself, was one of those who initiated a security project for Ben-Gurion International Airport, led by Elbit Systems, Nice, ICTS and businessman Aryeh Reichman, with funding from the Industry and Trade Ministry. "The vision," he says, "is to detect suspects from far off and track them unobtrusively via video cameras and sensors."
The physics department at the Technion is also involved in the special effort to develop a national response to terror and weapons of mass destruction. Physicists Uri Sivan and Erez Braun, and chemist Yoav Eichen, specialists in nano-technology, succeeded in developing a kit for detecting DNA molecules and proteins in solution. The rights to use their invention were sold to the American company, Integrated Nano-Technologies, which employs this technology in detecting anthrax bacteria.
Thanks to their work, there is no need to take cultures and wait for the organisms to grow. This saves time, an essential commodity in the event of biological attack, when the source of the outbreak must be quickly identified in order to promptly vaccinate the population. Technion researchers have registered a number of patents abroad on this invention.
Protection for people and structures
In one of the wings on the ground floor of the National Building Research Institute at the Technion, there is a laboratory for studying reinforced structures. In the center of the lab, there is a simulator - a type of cannon - developed by Technion engineers. The gas gun, which fires special projectiles of large diameter, was built to test the resistance and strength of different types of concrete. The head of the institute, Professor David Yankelevsky, says that the researchers have succeeded in creating a new generation of concrete that is more likely to block missiles and shells from penetrating a structure. The institute's researchers share this information with the IDF Home Front Command, which is responsible for the construction of secure rooms in new homes, and with the IDF units charged with constructing army outposts along the border.
The institute is involved in the development of standards for planning bomb shelters and other structures designed to resist impact blast and shrapnel. In the 1990s, the institute participated in a series of experiments conducted with the Home Front Command and American security officials to test the impact of an explosion (like than of a Scud missile) near or in residential buildings. Based on information gleaned from this research, a decision was taken on the type of concrete to use in constructing the new IDF outposts along the border with Lebanon.
The institute is also involved in the operational requirements being discussed for redeployment along the separation fence. A problem is liable to arise, especially in urban areas. Prof. Yankelevsky: "We are now beginning research on thin-membrane elements that are capable of effectively blocking gunfire from light weapons directed at residential neighborhoods. It is in an initial development stage. Perhaps we'll also develop mobile elements using thin panels mounted on a concrete base."
An idea now under consideration at the institute is to develop protective vests for infantry soldiers made of concrete plates instead of ceramic elements. Yankelevsky lists the advantages: The cost of producing the concrete panels is less than the cost of making ceramic panels; from battlefield experience, the ceramic element shatters when hit and can no longer be used, while the concrete element will remain whole and not disintegrate. When the experiments are completed on the compound to be used for creating the bullet-proof concrete elements, it will represent a breakthrough in the field of personal protection.
Adopting methods from fauna and flora
A group of eight researchers make up what is called the Technion's "elite force". The Technion's directors decided that these eight professors, from various faculties, should devote their full time and efforts to proposing ideas that can serve as the basis for unique technological developments. One of the members of the group, Professor Daniel Weihs of the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering, looks to nature for inspiration on developing military technologies. "I've been studying nature for many years to learn about all kinds of phenomena of fauna and flora that can be applied to everyday human life," he explains.
One question that was examined together with Israel Military Industries was whether missile warheads should be built in a non-circular shape for certain types of attack missions. Professor Weihs: "We found that there is fish that because of the configuration of its fins, attacks at a slight angle to the direction in which its prey is heading. We discovered that the due to configuration of its fins, the fish creates a whirlpool in the water that gives it additional power, enabling it to boost its buoyancy and hunt its prey. A circular body does not create power."
Based on the study of this fish by Professor Weihs and his team, IMI developed a new generation of winged missiles capable of drawing attacking missiles off target.
Last year, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was shown a model of an engineless, nano-RPV (remote piloted vehicle) developed by Professor Weihs and his colleagues. The RPV was modeled after the way in which dandelion seeds fly in the wind. This flower produces thousands of seeds about 5-6mm long. The seeds are shaped like an umbrella blown inside out by the wind. The wings of the seeds are made of very thin capillaries, with spaces between them that create air movement to help their flight. The width of each fiber is a third of a micron, thinner than a human hair. The nano-RPV was based on this idea. To test this idea, a model was built at 50 times the scale. Polymer fibers were used instead of the seed fibers of the dandelion. During the next stage, stronger fibers were developed, made of titanium and weighing a tenth of a milligram. The results surprised everyone, with tests showing that a nano-RPV capable of climbing to an altitude of 100 meters could be built without an engine.
Professor Weihs believes that the nano-RPV can be used for several purposes. One potential application would be to fire a swarm of nano-RPVs from the rifle magazine of a grenade launcher into an area contaminated by gases and use the nano-RPVs to identify the type of gas. When the RPV comes into contact with the gas, it will change in color, thus providing a visual demarcation of the area contaminated by the gas. Thanks to their light weight, the RPVs would be carried with the wind, together with the cloud of gas, and would continue to indicate the radius of danger. This solution could also be used in the event of a highway mishap involving a gas tanker.