Science Briefs

External lasers could spot drunken drivers

An article in the Journal of Applied Remote Sensing is getting attention for research that could aid in the campaign to prevent drunken driving: a device that can detect alcohol in cars.

The article, “Stand-off detection of alcohol in car cabins,” by Polish researchers at the Military University of Technology, details experiments using an external laser device to detect the presence of alcohol vapors inside of a moving car.

The use of the device is simple: The laser system is set up on the side of the road to monitor each car that passes. If alcohol vapors are detected in the car, a message with a photo of the car including its plate number is sent to a police officer waiting down the road. Then, the police officer stops the car and checks for signs of alcohol using conventional tests.

The authors note that the device would likely also identify cars where the driver is sober but the passengers are not, or if there is spilled alcohol in the car.

The device was tested with a car deployed on the road while the laser stayed in the laboratory next to an open window.

The authors note that the use of stand-off detection for chemical identification has been described in many papers, but that developments in the types of lasers that can be used in this application have been made in recent years, including “eye-safe” microchip lasers.

Transmitters track exotic ‘little devil’ on the coast

Clemson University’s S.C. Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit joined with Grupo Jaragua and the American Bird Conservancy to lead the first-ever effort to track via satellite the black-capped petrel, an endangered North Atlantic seabird known for its haunting call and mysterious nighttime habits.

There are only 13 known breeding colonies and an estimated 600 to 2,000 breeding pairs, all located in the remote areas of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

The birds, which come to land only to breed, are known in their home range as “daiblotin” or “little devil” because of their eerie call and the sound produced by air moving over their wings during nocturnal flights.

Researchers recently affixed small solar-powered satellite transmitters to three birds raising chicks in the isolated mountains along the border region of Haiti and Dominican Republic.

The three birds have now headed out to sea in search of food. Their travels can be followed at

Black-capped petrels are known to visit waters off the U.S. East Coast and have been seen in the Southeast as far north as Cape Hatteras.

Dinosaurs on the move in South Carolina

When boredom starts setting in for the kids this summer, pile them in the car and take them to see the monsters in South Carolina.

“Dinosaurs: A Bite Out of Time,” opens June 21 at the S.C. State Museum in Columbia, with robotic dinosaurs that include a controllable duckbill. Dinosaurs in the exhibit range in size from half-scale to full-size and include some of the most well-known dinosaurs, including Tyrannosaurus rex, Triceratops and Stegosaurus, as well as less-familiar animals such as Tenontosaurus and Pachycephalosaurus. There’s also a robotic Maiasaur, a prehistoric aquatic reptile, the skeleton cast of which is on permanent display on the museum’s natural history floor. Details: Staff reports