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Science%2520Project

On the TSA blog:

You may have heard in the news recently about how a college student unintentionally closed down a TSA checkpoint with his science project. He had shipped it to Omaha, but decided to travel with it on his departure. Let’s be clear, it was completely innocent. He had no way of knowing his improvised mint tin would look like an improvised explosive device (IED) on our X-ray monitor. Most people wouldn’t realize it and the purpose of this post is to inform folks that homemade gadgets (however cool they may be) can look like improvised explosive devices to our officers on the X-ray monitors.

So when you pack your bags for a trip, you may want to think about what items you are placing next to others to avoid the hassle of unintentionally creating an X-ray image which could cause TSA to conduct a further inspection of your carry-on and checked bags.

A couple things to mention before we all debate in the comments:

  • The TSA closed down a TSA checkpoint, not the student.
  • It’s a mint tin, it’s not called an “improvised mint tin”.
  • This item was in the student’s *carry on* not checked in baggage.

“Further inspection” is understandable, but that’s very different than sending in the FBI and BOMB SQUADS.

Based on what is reported here I don’t see any reason why the terminal was shut down.

If you have something the TSA wants to look at something in your carry on, they pull you aside and look at it, swab it, x-ray it. The person can explain what something is as it is being inspected (and the TSA can verify what they are saying with explosives testing equipment). I don’t see any reason why this would cause a shutdown of terminals based on how the TSA usually operates. “Further inspection of your carry-on and checked bags” is totally fine (and encouraged!) the FBI and bomb squad coming in?

There must be some missing information here, maybe the student got past the check point and they reviewed the x-rays later? If so, this makes more sense. They could also have a new policy that we do not know about where the TSA will pull everyone off a flight if they are holding someone because of a “device”. I’ve emailed the TSA blog contact and asked them to participate here on MAKE.

The Omaha Police Department’s bomb squad was called after a suspicious-looking item was found in a carry-on bag shortly before noon at the airport’s north checkpoint in Terminal B.

Screening operations were suspended, and the B concourse was evacuated. Operations were not disrupted in Terminal A, according to a Transportation Security Administration official.

The item was cleared and airport operations returned to normal about 2 p.m. Breault said the device was harmless, “but it did trigger the proper response due to its suspicious appearance.”

The item in question (above) – wires, battery, mint tin – yah, it looks like almost every single electronic project featured here on MAKE. The TSA knows people make and travel with electronics, they have tests for whether something is an explosive or not.

All that said, the TSA does say “Let’s be clear, it was completely innocent”. I’m posting this for the same reason the TSA did, to raise awareness when things like this happen. The TSA isn’t an enemy, they can do better, we all need to know what to expect when we travel with electronics, policies will change – I do think they’re doing the best they can and we as makers can help them do a better job.

Phillip Torrone

Editor at large – Make magazine. Creative director – Adafruit Industries, contributing editor – Popular Science. Previously: Founded – Hack-a-Day, how-to editor – Engadget, Director of product development – Fallon Worldwide, Technology Director – Braincraft.


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