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New Design Class Studies Land Mines


Gabor Csanyi -- The Tech
Next semester, David H. Levy PhD '97 will teach a new course, Humanitarian Demining.

By Naveen Sunkavally
Staff Reporter

Next semester, the Department of Mechanical Engineering is offering a new design class entitled Humanitarian Demining.

The class, 2.993 for undergraduates and 2.997 for graduates, includes a trip during Independent Activities Period to Laos and possibly Cambodia to investigate land mines.

"For any design problem, you should go to the location of the problem," said David H. Levy G, lecturer for the course. "The conditions, materials, and process of demining are completely unknown to us." He added that students in any circumstances will not be exposed to any danger.

"The primary focus is to learn to design in the context of a difficult world-wide problem," Levy said.

Levy defined humanitarian demining as the removal of land mines "to make the ground safe for civilians to walk and farm on."

Members of the class would help to advance the state-of-the-art in humanitarian demining by creating a new system that will help speed the process, while minimizing risk and cost, Levy said.

According to the United Nations Demining Database, there are approximately 130 million land mines scattered across seventy countries. Egypt leads the world with 23 million unexploded land mines, and Cambodia contains 6 million land mines.

Every month, about 2,000 people die or are maimed by stepping on land mines. This year, the Nobel Prize Committee recognized the effort to ban land mines by awarding the Peace Prize to Jody Williams, coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. The effort to ban land mines has also gained publicity through efforts from Princess Diana.

Kosta Tsipis, research scientist in the materials science and engineering department and leader of military issues at MIT, helped bring about MIT's involvement in the dismantling of land mines, Levy said.

Project funded by DoD

MIT's involvement, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, involves three prongs, Levy said. In addition to the Humanitarian Demining class, the materials science and engineering department is conducting research on the characterization of materials in land mines, and the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science is investigating the building of a sensor to recognize the various signatures of land mines.

"The class is fun," Levy said, "We have the potential to have an impact on a worldwide problem." It will be a unique experience and far from any experience MIT students have had, Levy said.

Enrollment in the course is limited to five students. The trip during IAP to Laos and possibly Cambodia will take place from January 19 - January 28, and the $300 lab fee can be waived in cases of hardship.

Students interested in the class and trip should contact Levy at dlevy@mit.edu by next Friday.