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KNOXVILLE – Researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory are helping fight the war on terrorism with an array of sensors set up around Washington, D.C.

The SensorNet system samples the air for traces of chemical or radiological agents. ORNL researcher Jim Kulesz, the SensorNet program manager, said previous tests were successful at finding trace amounts of chemical contaminants.

“We want to be able to detect and identify and get the relative quantity of a release of chemical, biological and nuclear agents, and predict where this release is going before it gets there, all within five minutes,” Kulesz said. “We’re able to do it well within the five-minute time frame. It was about a minute and a half in the longest test, which was very encouraging.”

Kulesz said they hope to add biological scanning capabilities to the machines in Washington, D.C. in the near future. SensorNet is combining its scanning data with meterological computers to see how weather patterns might affect the dispersal of harmful substances.

The terrorist attacks of September 11 were a major impetus for designing these sensors, but the research was already underway, Kulesz said.

“SensorNet is something that started here at the laboratory, right after 9-11,” Kulesz said. “Actually it started a little bit before. We were working with military folks on systems for the battlefield. After 9-11 it seemed the battlefield was going to be in the continental United States. So we did some reconfiguring of the technology for the purpose of homeland security.”

Kulesz said the national laboratory expects more federal funding for testing of the sensors.