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Sammies finalist Leticia Pibida, physicist at the National Institute of Standards & Technology, discusses her work in standardizing hazardous material detectors at border crossings.

It’s harder now for nuclear materials to be smuggled across the border, thanks to improvements in technology. False alarms for radiological signatures dropped significantly, allowing customs to focus on other threats. Leticia Pibida, physicist at the National Institute of Standards & Technology, helped to create the standards behind this technology. She’s a finalist for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal for her work. She told Government Matters that the standards came about out of necessity.


“All the instrumentation that had existed was for scrap metal, for laboratory use, but it was not used for protection at sea ports and border crossings. After 9/11, there was a realization that there were all of these gaps that we need to fill in.” Pibida said. “And so, we performed several tests and tried to acquire equipment to see if they were suited for this new application that had not existed before, and we realized that there were not. So, we started developing the standards and worked with industry, and many new instrumentation was manufactured to reduce this gap and make sure have the right instruments to perform the necessary measurements.”

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February 2021
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