The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency wants to create subatomic particles that would enable humans to “see” through thick concrete walls and also map underground facilities. Scientists envision subatomic particles, known as muons, that are powered by lasers that would enable them to travel yards through solid block.



The United States’ military has announced it is seeking to create powerful subatomic particle beams that would enable personnel to “see” through walls tens of yards thick and even peer deep underground.

Using radiation or particles to see through objects is something scientists have done for decades and across a variety of industries. Commercial aviation has made use of neutrons and gamma rays to scan the interiors of airfreight containers for illicit materials, and x-ray scans are widely used in healthcare to see the bone structure of our bodies.

However, none of the methods devised so far can see through particularly thick walls or map deep underground structures, which puts a limit on military uses.This is where high-energy particles known as muons come in, according to the U.S. military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Muons are subatomic particles that are similar to electrons but around 200 times heavier. At high energy, they can easily travel through hundreds of yards of solid rock.

The problem is that since muons are high-energy particles they require high-energy sources. Only two such sources are known: cosmic rays, which produce muons in Earth’s upper atmosphere when they collide with atmospheric particles; and particle accelerators like the U.S. Fermilab accelerator or the Large Hadron Collider in Europe.

Such huge accelerators are not practical for military purposes, and while it is possible to harness muons created naturally via cosmic rays, it’s a slow process that can take months to produce meaningful results.