Local professor working to remove landmines in war zones

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LANCASTER, Pa. – A local professor is gearing up for a trip that will hopefully save lives in a war zone.

“For every mine that comes out of the ground you've got to dig up very carefully 99 pieces of trash,” Franklin and Marshall College professor Tim Bechtel said.

Removing land mines from war zones is a passion that will take Bechtel and a NATO team of researchers to a war zone in Ukraine next month.

“There are going to be areas that have been mined in the last couple of years and Ukraine is the breadbasket of Europe,” Bechtel said. “It's a very important agricultural area, so it would be good to get those mines out of there as quickly as possible when the conflict ends.”

One of the many challenges of humanitarian de-mining is dealing with mines that may not have any metal at all, and it's those landmines that require extreme caution to remove.

“The one you want to find, you're going to miss,” Bechtel said, holding a small inert mine. “And there are plenty of rocks around the world, river cobbles that are exactly this size and shape.”

That's why Bechtel and his team are hoping to develop and outfit a robotic device with ground penetrating radar systems to locate those hard-to-find landmines.

“I don't want this to just be an academic project where we do some research safely here in our laboratory and something that's completely useless in the real world,” he said.

But first, they need to get a lay of the land and study the soils.

“We can look at what is going to be the maximum physical property contrast between the mines that are in use and the soils that are already there,” he said.

They're hoping the work they do there will help lead to removal of landmines in war zones around the world.