A better state of mine
By Ed Stack
Diplomatic efforts surrounding the land mine issue may attract public attention but actual progression has been underway for two years by a graduate student at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.
David Skaley, a graduate student in mechanical engineering, said he has created a working prototype of a device that can detect anti-personnel mines.
Skaley said the project started as a fourth-year design class assignment until funding was granted by the Defence Research Establishment in Suffield, Alberta. This allowed him to continue working on the device and develop a prototype.
The detector creates vibrations that can be used to identify buried objects such as rocks, tree roots and land mines. "The major challenge was to create a computer program using algorithms that a computer can identify," Skaley said.
Skaley added the experience has been worthwhile and he hopes to continue as a researcher upon completion of his thesis.
Ken Fyfe, an engineering professor and Skaley's thesis supervisor, said whenever students get to solve a real-world problem they benefit from the experience.
"It is a revolting thought that engineers designed the first anti-personnel mines so it is fitting we try to fix the problem now," Fyfe said, adding the benefit to society increases the value of the project.
Fyfe said he likes to be involved with socially-beneficial projects such as the invention of a new version of the pediatric wheelchair. This was developed last year and allows the handicapped to stand, reducing the risk of bone density loss, he added.
Professor Ian Moore, Western's associate dean of research and graduate studies for the faculty of engineering, said he also places great value on learning by applying knowledge to the real world.
"We train engineers to not just understand why it went wrong but to fix the problem or learn to manage it," Moore said. He added there are currently over 100 ongoing projects by Western students from silo construction to earthquake-proof building materials.
Because of the recent focus on the land mine issue involving the late Diana, Princess of Wales and the Oslo Conference in Norway, many inquiries have been made about the detector from corporations, private individuals, armies and governments, Fyfe said. He added it is estimated there are 2,000 casualties every month by 110 million existing land mines.