Terahertz imaging goes the distance

April 26, 2007

Terahertz (THz) radiation, or far-infrared light, is potentially very useful for security applications, as it can penetrate clothing and other materials to provide images of concealed weapons, drugs, or other objects. However, THz scanners must usually be very close to the objects they are imaging. Doubts have lingered over whether it is possible to use THz waves to image objects that are far away, because water vapor in air absorbs THz radiation so strongly that most of it never reaches the object to be imaged.

At the upcoming CLEO/QELS meeting in Baltimore, an MIT-Sandia team will demonstrate the first real-time THz imaging system that obtains images from 25 meters away. The technique takes advantage of the fact that there are a few "windows," or frequency ranges, of the terahertz spectrum that do not absorb water very strongly.

The MIT-Sandia group designed a special, semiconductor-based device known as a "quantum cascade laser" that delivers light in one of these windows (specifically, around 4.9 THz). They shine this light through a thin target with low water content (for example, a dried seed pod), and a detector on the other side of the sample records an image.

A cryorefrigerator maintains the laser at a temperature of 30 Kelvin, where it produces 17 milliwatts of power (as opposed to the microwatts of power typical of pulsed terahertz sources) in order to provide enough terahertz radiation to obtain a decent image. Increasing the power of the lasers and sensitivity of the detectors can potentially enable imaging of thicker objects or imaging of the reflected light, which would be more practical for security applications. In addition, the development of high-operating-temperature quantum cascade lasers, which operate without the use of cryogenic materials, may also increase the availability of this approach. In the closer term, however, this approach may enable sensing of chemical residues or contaminants in the air.

Source: Optical Society of America

Explore further: Laser ablation boosts terahertz emission

Related Stories

Laser ablation boosts terahertz emission

September 17, 2015

From almost instantaneous wireless transfer of huge amounts of data and easy detection of explosives, weapons, or harmful gases, to safe 3-D medical imaging and new advances in spectroscopy —technologies based on terahertz ...

Laser guided codes advance single pixel terahertz imaging

June 25, 2013

The universe is awash in terahertz (THz) waves, as harmless as they are abundant. But unlike other regions of the electromagnetic spectrum, THz has proven to be extremely difficult to manipulate in order to capture novel ...

Recommended for you

Test racetrack dipole magnet produces record 16 tesla field

November 30, 2015

A new world record has been broken by the CERN magnet group when their racetrack test magnet produced a 16.2 tesla (16.2T) peak field – nearly twice that produced by the current LHC dipoles and the highest ever for a dipole ...

Turbulence in bacterial cultures

November 30, 2015

Turbulent flows surround us, from complex cloud formations to rapidly flowing rivers. Populations of motile bacteria in liquid media can also exhibit patterns of collective motion that resemble turbulent flows, provided the ...

CERN collides heavy nuclei at new record high energy

November 25, 2015

The world's most powerful accelerator, the 27 km long Large Hadron Collider (LHC) operating at CERN in Geneva established collisions between lead nuclei, this morning, at the highest energies ever. The LHC has been colliding ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.