Duke University is using $5.8 million of funding from the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to develop the next generation of airport security scanning technology.

The new devices could scan the contents of baggage in three dimensions and down to the molecular level.

Duke researcher Joel Greenberg, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and a leader of the project, said the challenge is to build a scanner that is both quick and accurate.

“A hospital will spend a million dollars on a thorough scanning device that can process four relatively predictable people in an hour,” he said.

“An airport wants a device that can process thousands of bags – which could literally contain just about anything – each hour for less than $100,000. That’s why airport security technology is so challenging.”

 The device under development combines multi-view transmission with x-ray diffraction tomography to create three-dimensional images.

X-ray diffraction tomography is an emerging technology that currently is used only in lab settings: it uses x-ray information to determine the composition of objects.

The research is being conducted in partnership with Smiths Detection and Quadridox, Inc.

 “The initial work on this technology never quite got to the point where a commercial partner would want to take a shot at developing a device,” said Greenberg.

“But we’re hoping in taking a slightly different approach, we can engineer a security scanner that combines two useful technologies for the first time that works much better than any scanner that relies on only one or the other.”