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On Tuesday, Rep. Rush Holt held a press conference at which he demanded that the FBI resume its investigation into the anthrax postal attacks in Princeton of five years ago.

While the post-9-11 anthrax attacks remain unsolved, today’s issue of the journal Science offers a new weapon in the war on terrorism: a laser technique that can detect, on the fly, bioterrorism agents like anthrax.

The post-9/11 anthrax scares pointed up a new vulnerability in national security: detection of anthrax was slow and unwieldy. The laser technology would allow the Post Office to detect anthrax within a tenth of a second and allow for real-time environmental monitoring, according to Marlan Scully, the lead author of the paper. Scully holds joint appointments at Princeton’s School of Engineering and at Texas A&M.

Scully, known as the quantum cowboy, began his anthrax investigations shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, when his son, a commercial airline pilot, challenged him to come up with a way to test potentially dangerous substances in real time.

Photomicrograph of anthrax (bacillus anthracis)

 
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