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Researchers developing radar technology to detect mold behind walls

ding ceiling tiles typically used in commercial structures.

Ultimately, the researchers hope to produce a small, handheld prototype unit something akin to a stud finder to lay the technical foundation for a commercial product that contractors could purchase for about $1,000 to $2,000 and easily learn to use. They would then test that prototype in actual houses.

Radar expert Greneker envisions a system that would map mold behind a wall. If dampness is indicated by the radar-based device, then a contractor could know more precisely where to probe for damage, he explained.

"We think this technology is on the cutting edge for detecting mold behind walls," Greneker said. "Its potential is immense."

In an initial experiment that began in January 2004, researchers used a small panel of wallboard -- which is very porous -- soaked in water and injected with non-toxic fungal spores. In one month's time, those spores germinated as the wallboard was kept in a high-humidity environment. Mold thrives in damp wallboard because of its paper-based encasing, DeJesus explained.

Researchers then used the radar system to scan the wallboard panel, and they were encouraged by the early results. Now, they are tweaking the algorithm to enable the radar system to discriminate between the mold backscatter signature and nails, boards and wiring that would be found in and behind wallboard, Greneker said. They must also find ways to reduce the system's cost, while retaining its sensitivity, he added.

This experiment and a larger-scale one that began this spring simulate what might happen to wallboard dampened by a home's leaking pipe or roof, or from condensation formed by a HVAC system, or even from high-humidity conditions, DeJesus said.

If left unattended, mold can destroy structures and cause serious health problems. The researchers cite a well-known case in which a jury awarded $32 million in damages to plaintiffs in Texas who sued over a neurolog
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Contact: Jane Sanders
jane.sanders@edi.gatech.edu
404-894-2214
Georgia Institute of Technology Research News
29-Apr-2004


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