New technology in detecting bioterrorism to be studied in Oklahoma

Tuesday, October 9th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

The threat of bio-terrorism is a big concern here in the US. People are asking how safe is our air and water from biological and chemical attack? You might not know it, but new technology to help protect us is being developed right here in Oklahoma.

News on Six reporter Paul Serrell went to Stillwater where scientists are using a 3-year, $3 million grant to make it harder for terrorists to harm us. Missile attacks are one way to fight terrorism.

Homeland defense is another. At Oklahoma State University in one of the research labs, scientists are trying to beat terrorism with technology. Their goal is to build an electronic monitor that would alert authorities quickly if a chemical or biological attack were launched in our water or air. That way people could be warned or taken to safety before anyone gets sick. Dr. Ken Clinkenbeard: "That's the idea. If you detect a terrorist event at the time you've got six people, you've detected it too late. We want to be able to detect it right now when it happens, so that we'll have all that time to mitigate all the problems that happen from an exposure."

OSU's partners in the project are the people of Nomadics, a software and technology company that counts the US Army as one of its customers. Company President Colin Cumming showed us the idea for protecting the air in a building from terrorist contamination. "First we have to capture some air containing the vapor or the particles. And we use these filters. And once we've captured them take the material and run it through a detector." Once inside the detector, the air would be tested by a polymer, a type of plastic that would change color if anything dangerous were found. "Certainly, we've always thought this was very important work, but recent events have made it even more so. And certainly our team is extremely motivated."

So motivated that they expect to have one of their prototypes ready by 2003 or 2004. They say don't expect a magic bullet that'll protect every possible target all the time. But they feel the harder they make things for the terrorists, the better.