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Why are lobsters being used in new X-ray technologies?

        Science | Devices

Bombs and Termites
­The Department of Homeland Security hopes LEXID and related technologies will improve current airport scanners.
­The Department of Homeland Security hopes LEXID and related technologies will improve current airport scanners.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

As with most spy gadgets - especially those that don't pose a major radiation risk to human bodies -- LEXID and its related technology have a pretty broad range of applications. Everybody wants one. The Department of Homeland Security has put about $1 million into the project for obvious reasons: Seeing through walls is a big boost in the anti-terror effort.

Current X-ray systems used to scan luggage and international cargo containers are absolutely huge. Portability isn't an option. But with a handheld scanner like the LEXID, it's easy to see what's inside cargo containers, trucks at border crossings or cars sitting on the side of the road in a war zone.

Physical Optics plans to have LEXID on the market as early as 2008, and it won't be available to just Homeland Security. At a projected price of well less than $10,000 per scanner, the field is open for all sorts of uses. House inspectors, exterminators and construction workers could see exactly what's inside the walls and foundation of a house. Archaeologists could save themselves weeks of trying to get inside a delicate structure only to find that it does not, in fact, hold the secret to the fall of Rome. SWAT teams could see exactly what they're dealing with before they run into a building. Lower-power, higher-efficiency X-ray technology could mean that radiology departments can get rid of the lead blankets.

Lobster vision is just coming into its own, but it's not a new pursuit: Astronomers have spent the last 30 years developing a lobster-eye-based optical system. One of the latest incarnations is called the Lobster-ISS telescope, which could end up shedding light on dark matter and dramatically expand extra-galactic exploration. With the help of our delicious crustaceous friends and some good-old ingenuity, we'll be viewing supernovas, black holes and bad guys in this galaxy and far, far beyond in no time.

For more information on the future of airport security and how lobster vision might illuminate dark matter, check out the links on the next page.


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