‘Dervish’ leads way in scientific crusade against landmine menace

The Edinburgh International Science Festival features a Scottish invention which could lead to faster, cheaper mine clearance.

Words: Stephen Naysmith

LANDMINES IN TROUBLE ZONES around the world inflict injury and death on civilians, children and aid workers often long after conflict is ended.

The International Red Cross estimates 800 people are killed by mines every month, while another 1200 are maimed. The problem can only be cleared at great expense and by the painstaking and dangerous efforts of teams of minesweepers.

Although 123 countries signed an international convention banning the use, production, and stockpiling of landmines last December, clearance could take decades it is not known how many mines have been laid in countries such as Afghanistan, Angola, Rwanda and Bosnia.

But now a revolutionary device developed at Edinburgh University’s department of mechanical engineering could point the way ahead.

The ’Dervish’, which has been invented by a team led by Professor Stephen Salter, will be highlighted at the forthcoming Edinburgh Science Festival. It is a mobile, ’tripod-like’ machine, which could clear

mines 1000 times faster than working by hand, and costs a fraction of current anti-landmine technologies.

t works by mimicking the pressure of a human foot in order to trigger anti-personnel mines. The structure is designed so that an explosion Will only damage cheaper, expendable parts.

According to Salter, the Dervish could save hundreds of man-months wasted on 'clearance' of areas that turn out to be unmined. 'More landmines are laid every year than are cleared,’ he said. 'The Dervish can help reverse this trend.

’It is easy and inexpensive to repair in the field by anyone who can maintain a motorcycle and a number of Dervishes can be radio-controlled by a single operator simultaneously.’

The design still needs to be adapted to enable the machine to cope with very steep or rough ground, but a charity, Dervish Mine Clearance, has already been set up to raise funds to burld them and provide training in the countries where Dervishes are needed.

Professor Salter’s talk The Killing Landmines at the Science Festival will explain the system and is an excellent example of science in action according to a Festival spokesperson.

’The device costs £7000 compared with £250,000 for current anti-landmine technology,‘ she said. 'It could make a huge difference.’


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Hands on: kids can emulate telly docs

Kids to get crash course in surgery

EDINBURGH SCIENCE FESTIVAL is celebrating its tenth anniversary with a programme that maintains its tradition of accessibility.

Highlights include Live and Let Die, a debate on the ethics of human euthanasia, Missing Links A/ivel, a major exhibition at the City Art Centre and Up in Smoke, an investigation into human spontaneous combustion.

Meanwhile, The ER Surgery Workshop gives children the chance to live out the thrill of TV casualty programmes in a dramatic recreation of a modern hospital.

Jennifer Simpson, a science communicator at the Festival, said the Assembly Rooms venue would be converted into an operating theatre, coping with a mock road-accident casualty

'Children will get to remove a ruptured spleen which is a very common car crash injury. They can also try to pin a fractured tibia and operate an ECG machine.’

The aim is to make the experience as realistic as possible, she said. ’We are hoping it will start some new medical careers. We don't expect anyone to faint, or get too squeamish - children are often better in these situations than adults,’ she added.

The Edinburgh Science Festival runs Sat 4-Sun 19 Apr. Contact the box office on 0131 473 2070 for

Enemy mine: Professor Salter and the ‘Dervish'

tickets or programme.

And finally... Is Connery’s knock-back unusual? No Sir!

EVERYONE KNOWS THE sinking feeling at being snubbed. Even the world's finest spies have been getting the bum's rush recently, with both Roger Moore and Marbella's Sean Connery being passed over for their knighthoods. But it's a little bizarre to see Alex Salmond and his ilk stamping up and down in fury. The SNP‘s long- held hatred of privilege, the rich. the monarchy and all that gear, doesn't really square with their outrage over omissions in the Honours list. a potent symbol of the outmoded democratic system the party is seeking to change.

WHY DOES THE Government bother having independent advisory bodies if it then rides roughshod over their wise counsel? Those good people at the The Scottish Water and Sewerage Customers' Council are raving at Donald Dewar for listening

patiently to their sound advice against massive price hikes and then proceeding to ignore it completely. Perhaps Dewar was too busy concocting some diabolical scheme to keep George Lazenby from picking up a gong.

Sean: dub snub

ONCE THE BILL to set up Scotland’s new parliament gets through, it looks like they may have to get everyone round the pub to discuss matters of state. Seems that the big names in architecture are turning their backs on the plans for the building which will be a landmark in Scottish history. The likes of the German parliament’s creator Sir Norman Foster, the Millennium Dome architect Lord Rogers and Frank Gehry, the New Yorker who dreamed up Bilbao’s Guggenheim, are either too busy or probably think that Scotland is the capital of London.

THOSE OF YOU who enjoyed or even remember the fun-filled night that was last year‘s street shindig for Edinburgh's Hogmanay will be less than amazed to hear that the authorities are planning to introduce charges for the event.

Indications as to the amount have yet to be forthcoming but the more cynical among you may be tempted to conclude that the regular Edinburgher may be priced out of the party, leaving those who think Scotland is the capital of London to have all the fun. Rumours that the festivities for 1999 are set to be restricted to Australians in kilts and those hilarious tartan hats with the ginger wig are yet to be confirmed. (Brian Donaldson)

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6-19 Mar 1998 THE U8725