Marian Bechtel ’16 Demonstrates Landmine Detection Research at White House Science Fair

Posted November 15th, 2012 at 2:47 pm.

marian-bechtelThe White House has been the focus of much attention in the wake of the recent presidential election but the Bryn Mawr College community can take pride in its own recent White House representation: Marian Bechtel ’16 demonstrated her seismo-acoustic method to detect buried landmines at the White House Science Fair in February.

In her final year of high school (she skipped senior year), Bechtel was chosen as a finalist in the Intel Science Talent Search, a prestigious science research competition for high school seniors. Shortly after her acceptance she received a call from an Intel Science Search representative with a unique invitation. “She told me, ‘Hey, we just got a call from the White House and they want you to come to their Science Fair’,” Bechtel recalled. “And I was, of course, freaking out and so excited because I was going to go to the White House… so I asked ‘When is it?’ and she said, ‘Oh, in five days’.”

Bechtel summarized the experience as “really whirlwind, but really exciting.”

Her work on landmines began in eighth grade when, inspired by the experiences of her cousins in Mozambique and the work of her geologist parents (Felicia Kegel Bechtel ’82 and Timothy Bechtel, a Haverford alumnus), Bechtel united her love of music and science with a humanitarian intent. “I’m a musician, so I was able to connect my passion for music and acoustics with finding a way to detect buried landmines.”

Bechtel describes her early device prototype as “a metal detector that I rescued from a dumpster and then tore apart” but its function is a bit more complicated. The device utilizes a set of headphones connected to two microphones with one wired in reverse to create noise cancellation. When a seismic shaker is activated in a land field, causing nearby landmines to resonate, Bechtel’s device would sweep over the ground allowing the microphones to pick up a signal from the landmine, creating a characteristic sound pattern. “As each microphone passes over the mine, the sound swells, but then there’s a point in the middle where the two microphones are equidistant from the mine where they’re picking up the same signal so it cancels completely. So you can, through the headphones, listen to that pattern in the sound,” she explains.

The device relies on the flexibility of landmine containers, as opposed to other objects that also may lie underneath a landmine field. “When you play a tone or send a seismic signal, [landmines] are going to resonate very clearly whereas a lot of non-compliant clutter such as rocks and roots and shrapnel won’t resonate…at the same level as a landmine,” Bechtel said.

The device seeks to tackle one of the major setbacks occurring with current methods of landmine detectors such as metal detectors and probing spikes—a 95 percent false alarm rate. “Cutting down anything from that 95 percent false alarm rate is a success,” Bechtel said.

Her next step, she said, is to publish her work in an academic journal or conference.

Filed under: BMC Homepage Headlines,Students Tags: , by Alyssa Banotai

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