Like several American troops serving in Iraq in 2006, Marine Reservist Jason Cox had plenty of exposure to improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the roadside bombs responsible for killing soldiers and civilians. Cox, a fire team leader who spent seven months patrolling in the turret of a Humvee, differed from his colleagues in one way: he had just started graduate work in chemistry, the field in which he had obtained his bachelor’s degree. In between patrols, he put his training to use. He devised a method of detecting IEDs’ triggering systems from a distance of 250 meters–a much safer distance than current methods allow. The U.S. military has agreed to buy systems based on Cox’s design to counter tactics based on roadside bombs.

Reservist Jason Cox received the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps achievement medal for his invention, based on infrared spectroscopy.
Click here to enlarge image

Cox based his technology on infrared spectroscopy. “We had some optics in our unit that worked in the infrared,” he says. “Besides the fact that this was the only type of optic available to me at the time, infrared imaging has a number of advantages. They work well in low light, daylight, and no light. And no excitation source is necessary to probe your target; the environment provides the energy.”

Cox started by testing whether the optic would image IEDs statically. “Then,” he says, “we slowly built it up and mounted it on a vehicle. In about three weeks we had a fully operational profile.” He presented his findings to his commanding officers, who recommended the systems’ use by the Marine Corps.

This approach, much of which is classified, isn’t unique. Several similar “driver’s vision enhancement” systems work on the same principles. However, Cox says, “I have made significant improvements in design. The device offers significant increases in standoff detection for specific types of IED threats.”

Cox has returned to his graduate studies at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts. And in recognition of his new system, he has received the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps achievement medal. – PG

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