Shedding light on hidden dangers

Sunday 17 August 2003

A groundbreaking new laser device capable of detecting potentially fatal gas leaks has been developed by Scottish scientists.

A team from the University of St Andrews is finalising work on its prototype gas detector, which allows scientists to “see” a wide range of gases invisible to the naked eye.

Drs Cameron Rae and David Stothard of the University’s Photonics Innovation Centre in the School of Physics and Astronomy have already used their new device in the lab to image a cloud of methane escaping from a leaking hose – one of the first times ever that an instrument has been able to produce live video images like this of an invisible gas. Ever mindful of the need to produce a system that can be made at a reasonable cost, the St Andrew’s team has combined their latest laser technology with a low-cost imaging concept borrowed from office photocopiers.

Dr Stothard said: “Having developed some really clever laser technology it looked like the project might stall because of the extremely high cost of infrared video cameras. Then I had the idea of using a mechanical scanning technique and optics similar to those used in a photocopier; it worked really well and the project is back on-course.”

The device has obvious commercial potential, especially when applied to domestic situations where a hazardous gas leak could be located in seconds. The new technology is already exciting interest across the European energy and gas distribution industries where it has the potential to safeguard lives – and save cash.

The team notes that a big advantage of the laser technology used is that it can be tuned across a wide spectrum of wavelengths. This means that it can be used to pick up a range of different gases.

The use of such a detector at petrochemical plants, where it can take days to locate a problem, could seriously reduce the risk to personnel and the wider environment by rapidly sourcing and plugging any dangerous leaks. However, the technology could have wider applications.

Dr Rae said: “It is envisaged that the tuneable laser technology developed here will have more widespread use in, for example, medical diagnostic and therapeutic applications as well as telecommunications and defence.”

Drs Rae and Stothard are now working to ensure their finished prototype can be made lightweight and man-portable. The team plans to set up collaborations with industrial organisations that will lead to a device suitable for field trials.

The St Andrews project has been backed by funding support from Scottish Enterprise and is one of the first to be completed under their Proof of Concept scheme.

Margaret McGarry, Scottish Enterprise’s Director of Technology Collaboration, said:

She said: “Innovative projects such as the development of this new laser device are exactly the reasons why the Proof of Concept fund was established. By assisting and exploiting early stage research activity we hope to improve the level and quality of commercialisation and contribute to the longer-term development of a strong, knowledge-based economy in Scotland.”



The Proof of Concept Fund

The Proof of Concept Fund was launched in 1999 as a three-year, £11m Fund. Its early success and popularity led to this being extended to a £33m fund over six years. In this its fourth year, the Fund supports 120 groundbreaking projects worth more than £19m, creating 290 new jobs. For further information online go to www.scottish-

Media Enquiries about the Proof of Concept Fund should be directed to: Kirstie Crawford, Senior Press and PR Executive (Scottish Enterprise), 0141 228 2876 (direct line), 0774 7770256 (mobile) email [email protected]


Issued by Beattie Media On behalf of the University of St Andrews Contact Gayle Cook on 01334 467227, mobile 07900 050 103, or email [email protected] Ref: gas detector pr 170803 View the latest University news at

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