Detecting landmines – with spinach

Forget sniffer dogs…we need to talk about spinach.

The team at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) have been working to transform spinach plants into a means of detection in the fight against buried munitions such as landmines.

Nanoparticles, plus tiny tubes called carbon nanotubes, are embedded into the spinach leaves where they pick up nitro-aromatics, chemicals found in the hidden munitions.

It takes the spinach approximately ten minutes to absorb water from the ground, including the nitro-aromatics, which then bind to the polymer material wrapped around the nanotube.

But where does the Pi come into this?

The MIT team shine a laser onto the leaves, detecting the altered fluorescence of the light emitted by the newly bonded tubes. This light is then read by a Raspberry Pi fitted with an infrared camera, resulting in a precise map of where hidden landmines are located. This signal can currently be picked up within a one-mile radius, with plans to increase the reach in future.

detecting landmines with spinach

You can also physically hack a smartphone to replace the Raspberry Pi… but why would you want to do that?

The team at MIT have already used the tech to detect hydrogen peroxide, TNT, and sarin, while co-author Prof. Michael Strano advises that the same setup can be used to detect “virtually anything”.

“The plants could be use for defence applications, but also to monitor public spaces for terrorism-related activities, since we show both water and airborne detection”

More information on the paper can be found at the MIT website.

17 comments

karan avatar

And I get credit for telling you about it!

Liz Upton avatar

I’m afraid our automated news ticker beat you to the punch by several hours – but thanks, we do appreciate tips!

karan avatar

Automated news ticker??

Liz Upton avatar

We scrape the web, broadcast and other media twice a day for mentions – very handy for helping us populate this blog and for news for social media!

karan avatar

Ahhhh!!I thought it was a raspberry pi server that checks all the time for mentions!!

Randy Connelie avatar

Wouldn’t *planting* the spinach be rather dangerous?

Fester Bestertester avatar

Would the spinach even survive ten minutes in the likes of the desert environments most prone to IEDs etc, let alone absorb enough moisture to act on?

Liz Upton avatar

I think this is more a proof of concept than spinach-ready-to-deploy; I’m sure that the researchers are also thinking about xerophytic plants.

AndrewS avatar

What happens when Popeye eats spinach embedded with carbon nanotubes??

Dougie Lawson avatar

Popeye is going to glow in the near infrared when you shine a laser at him. You’ll be able to detect that with a NoIR camera connected to a RPi.

Christoph avatar

Careful! Popeye will punch you in near infrared if you shine a laser at him!! ;-)

ann avatar

Is our military on top of this? Better, did DARPA invent spinach?

Sylvain avatar

I see a few minor creases that may need some ironing out…
* Landmines may not be always in the habitat most suitable for spinach growing
* Who is going to walk between the landmines to do the measurements?

Seriously, extremely cool. But… Wouldn’t it be easier to just make a number of small (cheap) rovers (4 wheels, a heavy brick, some motors and a PI) that ride over the terrain and detonate any mines under there?

Katon avatar

Not a bad idea

But couldn’t you just throw stones?

Jim avatar

I would say clumps of spinach flying through the air would be hint enough of a landmine without all this nanotube rigamarole.

ZacK avatar

Wow who would of thought!!!

Super cool project.

tesla avatar

Cool project!

Comments are closed