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Lancaster professors' project in limbo as Ukraine crisis puts landmine research on pause

For the past seven years, two professors at F&M in Lancaster have been examining ways to disable landmines in parts of Ukraine and several other countries.

LANCASTER, Pa. — Eastern Ukraine is scattered with landmines. According to the United Nations, the area is one of the most contaminated in the world for makeshift mines and the explosive remnants poses a threat to nearly two million residents.

Since 2015, Franklin and Marshall College professors Dr. Fronefield Crawford and Dr. Tim Bechtel, have been working with a team of researchers from around the world; like in Italy, Jordan and Ukraine, to find ways to disable landmines using robotic sensors.

"I thought this is great opportunity for me to jump in and deploy some of my skills as a physicist to a humanitarian project that can help people," said Crawford.

As tensions escalate between Ukraine and Russia, the future of the NATO sponsored project is uncertain.

"The fact that we can't use this in Ukraine is disappointment. But if we develop the technology, it could be deployed elsewhere," Crawford added.

On the team, there are at least six Ukrainian researchers. Crawford, who said he has not heard from them in days, is worried for their safety.

"Yeah, it's distressing not knowing the status of your friends in the middle of this warzone. You really want to hear that they're okay and their families are okay," said Crawford.

By 2027, Crawford said he hopes the robotic sensors will be ready for the field, but the timeline for its completion is unpredictable.

"So who knows what the situation is going to look in five years, things could look a lot better or it could look a lot worse," Crawford continued.

To find more information on the researchers' efforts to disable Ukrainian landmines, click here.

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