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If you’re a believer in wandering spirits, this gear may help find them

By Mark Baard
October 25, 2010

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Ghost hunting
For creatures who inhabit a world beyond our senses, ghosts do have a knack for getting noticed.

Pockets of hot and cold air, static electricity, faint voices and cries, objects moved by unseen forces — ghost hunters often see them as signs that paranormal events are afoot.

Each year at this time, Ghostvillage.com, a site run by Massachusetts-based paranormal researcher Jeff Belanger, sees an increase in its sales of infrared thermometers, cameras, electromagnetic field detectors, and voice recorders.

Amateur ghost hunters hope these gadgets, which typically cost less than $100 each, will help them spot ghosts in haunted houses.

On television, you might also see ghost hunters using hand-held infrared cameras from a Waltham company, Extech Instruments Corp. (www.extech.com).

Extech cameras, which sell for thousands of dollars apiece, are designed to detect leaks and missing insulation at places such as power plants and manufacturing facilities. They offer rainbow-like views of hot and cold spots, similar to those seen in the films “Predator’’ and “Wolfen.’’

Belanger, the author of 13 books — including “Weird Massachusetts’’ and “The Ghost Files’’ — and a writer and researcher for ghost-hunting shows on the Travel Channel, believes the fluctuations in electromagnetic fields and temperatures you might spy with such instruments are merely suggestive of spooky activity.

“I don’t believe that they detect ghosts, per se,’’ said Belanger, who has also been a guest on the esoteric Belmont-based podcast Binnall of America: Audio (binnallofamerica.com). “But they might detect something that’s happened before, during or after a paranormal event.’’

Still, Belanger is getting a kick out of the growing interest in ghost-hunting gadgetry.

“I’ve got apps on my iPhone for spirit communication,’’ he said. “How cool is that?’’

Note to newbie ghost hunters:

Before outfitting yourself with high-tech gear, consider that the source of your home’s anomalous noises might be a gadget like ThinkGeek.com’s EvilTron creepy sounds generator.

Hidden behind a bookcase or on the back of a fridge, the tiny EvilTron emits creaking and scratching sounds, whispers, and sinister laughs for up to a month between battery changes.

Prototypes

Grants support portable power generators

Many high school science students are working to solve the world’s energy problems with mobile inventions that generate power from small streams and the sun.

The Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams (web.mit.edu/inventeams) program, which promotes STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education, has announced grants of up to $10,000 each for power-generating and assistive technologies.

One winning team, from Green Bay Southwest High School in Wisconsin, is building a portable hydroelectric power generator for remote villages.

Another 2010-2011 team (alas, no New Englanders made the cut), from Smithtown High School in New York, has built a prototype solar panel with a tracking device to keep it aligned properly throughout the day.

The portable solar panel will be capable of charging cellphones and batteries for keeping lights on at night.

The Smithtown students’ work is inspired by their previous work, aiding a poor community in Nicaragua.