2013 R&D 100 Winner
PHASEIn current practice, explosives screening is conducted manually, visually, by swabbing, and through x-ray inspections. These non-covert approaches can be time-consuming, and they are often unable to cover all individuals and objects in large public. MIT Lincoln Laboratory has developed a promising new technology that remotely detects trace explosives material from significant standoff distances (100 m). Called Photoacoustic Sensing of Explosives (PHASE), the new system provides early warning of concealed threats targeting civilians, military personnel and public facilities. The technology exploits photoacoustic phenomena resulting from ultraviolet (UV) laser excitation. Short UV pulses vaporize explosives into the near atmosphere, generating acoustic signals. PHASE’s primary breakthrough employs laser vibrometry to remotely measure photoacoustic emissions, enabling long standoff sensing and location accuracies within millimeters.

The second breakthrough is the discovery of ultrasonic photoacoustic emissions from explosives’ release processes. These emissions, rich in signature features, depict explosive characteristics, enabling discrimination from benign materials. PHASE demonstrates high detection probabilities with low false alarms of military and certain homemade explosives, down to 200 ng/cm2.

Photoacoustic sensing of explosives

MIT Lincoln Laboratory

Development Team

The Photoacoustic Sensing of Explosives (PHASE) team includes (l-r): Rosalie Bucci, Jae Kyung, Robert Haupt, Leaf Jiang, Charles Wynn, Napoleon Thantu and Francesca Lettang.


The Photoacoustic Sensing of Explosives (PHASE) Development Team from MIT Lincoln Laboratory
Rob Haupt, Principal Developer
Leaf Jiang, Principal Developer
Chuck Wynn, Principal Developer
Rosalie Bucci
Charles Cobitt
Summanth Kaushik
Rod Kunz
Jae Kyung
Fran Lettang
Steve Palmacci
Greg Rowe
Napoleon Thantu