University completes initial testing of rescue aid

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A device that aims to detect trapped or buried victims in disaster situations has been successfully trialled at Loughborough University using human volunteers.

The team at Loughborough is led by Paul Thomas, a professor of analytical science. His team of researchers are part of a wider project being led by the National Technical University of Athens.

The device tested by the researchers consists of a probe that carries a range of sensors, including UV and infrared detectors, microphones and detectors that can read chemical signals. It has been designed to fit into a rucksack so it can easily be carried by rescue workers who would insert it into an area of a collapsed building where people are believed to be trapped.

The four-year project recently reached a milestone when 10 volunteers spent six hours consecutively ’trapped’ in a simulated environment to help researchers test out the device, which measures the chemicals in their breath and sweat.

In the experiment, the materials in a collapsed building were recreated for the probe to be inserted into and readings were taken and analysed at different levels.

’The next step in terms of testing the equipment will be hopefully to get volunteers to be “trapped” for longer, 24 hours for example, and to add in more confounding chemical signals, such as those from a collapsed sewage system, which would also be present in this kind of situation to ensure the probe is picking up the human signals,’ said Prof Thomas.

The whole project team, which includes 21 partners from 11 different countries, recently convened in Athens where the concept was demonstrated and Prof Thomas shared the initial findings of the experiment.