Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Podcast: Rescue Radar from Dolphin Clicks

When physicist Tim Leighton saw documentary footage of dolphins using bubble nets to catch their prey, he knew something was fishy. How were the dolphins differentiating the bubbles and the fish? Even the most sophistocated man-made sonar doesn't have that ability.

At least, not until Leighton and his colleagues at Southampton University designed Twin Inverted Pulsed Sonar or TWIPS, which can see through bubbles and focus on a true target, like a fish. Leighton's development of the technique was inspired by his curiosity about dolphin sonar abilities. In the October 23 issue of Proceedings of the Royal Society A, Leighton and his colleagues at the University of Southampton announced that they've successfully done with radar what TWIPS did with sonar. TWIPR (twin inverted pulsed radar), as it's called, is particularly apt at detecting electronic circuits, even amid clutter like scrap metal, soil, snow and concrete. The potential applications include searching for hidden explosive devices, like IED's, or covert listening devices. TWIPR could also be used to locate people in disaster areas (like collapsed buildings) by seeking out the circuitry in their cell phones.

This week on the Physics Central Podcast I talk with Leighton about how TWIPR works it's magic and whether or not he's solved that pesky dolphin problem.

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