T-rays technology could help develop star trek-style hand-held medical scanners

Jan 20, 2012

Scientists have developed a new way to create electromagnetic Terahertz (THz) waves or T-rays - the technology behind full-body security scanners. The researchers behind the study, published recently in the journal Nature Photonics, say their new stronger and more efficient continuous wave T-rays could be used to make better medical scanning gadgets and may one day lead to innovations similar to the 'tricorder' scanner used in Star Trek.

In the study, researchers from the Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE), a research institute of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) in Singapore, and Imperial College London in the UK have made T-rays into a much stronger directional beam than was previously thought possible, and have done so at room-temperature conditions. This is a breakthrough that should allow future T-ray systems to be smaller, more portable, easier to operate, and much cheaper than current devices.

The scientists say that the T-ray scanner and detector could provide part of the functionality of a Star Trek-like medical 'tricorder' - a portable sensing, computing and data communications device - since the waves are capable of detecting biological phenomena such as increased blood flow around tumorous growths. Future scanners could also perform fast wireless data communication to transfer a high volume of information on the measurements it makes.

T-rays are waves in the far infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum that have a wavelength hundreds of times longer than those that make up visible light. Such waves are already in use in airport security scanners, prototype medical scanning devices and in spectroscopy systems for materials analysis. T-rays can sense molecules such as those present in cancerous tumours and living DNA, since every molecule has its unique signature in the THz range. They can also be used to detect explosives or drugs, for gas pollution monitoring or non-destructive testing of semiconductor integrated circuit chips.

Current T-ray imaging devices are very expensive and operate at only a low output power, since creating the waves consumes large amounts of energy and needs to take place at very low temperatures.

In the new technique, the researchers demonstrated that it is possible to produce a strong beam of T-rays by shining light of differing wavelengths on a pair of electrodes - two pointed strips of metal separated by a 100 nanometre gap on top of a semiconductor wafer. The structure of the tip-to-tip nano-sized gap electrode greatly enhances the THz field and acts like a nano-antenna to amplify the wave generated. In this method, THz waves are produced by an interaction between the electromagnetic waves of the light pulses and a powerful current passing between the semiconductor electrodes. The scientists are able to tune the wavelength of the T-rays to create a beam that is useable in the scanning technology.

Lead author Dr Jing Hua Teng, from A*STAR's IMRE, said: "The secret behind the innovation lies in the new nano-antenna that we had developed and integrated into the semiconductor chip." Arrays of these nano-antennas create much stronger THz fields that generate a power output that is 100 times higher than the power output of commonly used THz sources that have conventional interdigitated antenna structures. A stronger T-ray source renders the T-ray imaging devices more power and higher resolution.

Research co-author Stefan Maier, a visiting scientist at A*STAR's IMRE and Professor in the Department of Physics at Imperial College London, said: "T-rays promise to revolutionise medical scanning to make it faster and more convenient, potentially relieving patients from the inconvenience of complicated diagnostic procedures and the stress of waiting for accurate results. Thanks to modern nanotechnology and nanofabrication, we have made a real breakthrough in the generation of T-rays that takes us a step closer to these new scanning devices. With the introduction of a gap of only 0.1 micrometers into the electrodes, we have been able to make amplified waves at the key wavelength of 1000 micrometers that can be used in such real world applications."

Explore further: NIST launches new calibration service for high-power lasers

More information: "Greatly enhanced continuous-wave terahertz emission by nano-electrodes in a photoconductive photomixer" is published in Nature Photonics by H Tanoto, JH Teng, QY Wu, M Sun, ZN Chen, SA Maier, B Wang, CC Chum, GY Si, AJ Danner and SJ Chua. DOI:10.1038/nphot.2011.322

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User comments : 14

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gopher65
4 / 5 (4) Jan 20, 2012
This is an amazing innovation. I can't stress enough how important this will end up being in diagnosis (both medical and in fields like failure analysis) if this research pans out. This could very well end up being as important as the invention of the x-ray machine or the MRI scanner.
NotAsleep
5 / 5 (2) Jan 20, 2012
That would be convenient if we got a cancer screening every time we went through security at the airport
CapitalismPrevails
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 20, 2012
aren't T-rays potentially dangerous?
Eoprime
4.7 / 5 (3) Jan 20, 2012
aren't T-rays potentially dangerous?

Like everything?
GSwift7
3.4 / 5 (5) Jan 20, 2012
That would be convenient if we got a cancer screening every time we went through security at the airport


If you'll allow me to put on my science fiction writer hat for a minute: The article above alluded to some kind of Star Trek tricorder device. If they are going to imagine that then I will take it to the next level still. By the time they have handheld T-ray machines, we will surely have our smartphones implanted in our bodies, with the screen projected holographically onto your retina. I would say just build the T-ray machine into the implanted smartphone and then we all have x-ray vision any time we want. Imagine how strange that would be? Tri-corder? That's so yesterday!
NotAsleep
5 / 5 (3) Jan 20, 2012
But then you'd get all those grass roots fundamentalists spewing the "No More Cyborgs" rhetoric... as if THAT saying wasn't worn out enough already...
Argiod
1 / 5 (1) Jan 20, 2012
It is yet to be seen if these folks are also doing research to determine short term and long term effects of T-ray scanning of humans. If not, we might find out, too late, that it is just one more trigger source for cancer...
dan42day
1 / 5 (1) Jan 21, 2012
I'm sure that with sufficient diversity training, Cyborgs will eventually be accepted.
ccr5Delta32
not rated yet Jan 21, 2012
I've just watched something on CNN on terahertz scanning for surveillance purposes . Follow the money
The medical applications may well be just a spin off
PosterusNeticus
3.3 / 5 (3) Jan 21, 2012
I've just watched something on CNN on terahertz scanning for surveillance purposes . Follow the money
The medical applications may well be just a spin off


Fair enough, but that applies to many of the technologies we use in everyday life. How much of what makes the modern day tick is an offshoot of some military research or other? It doesn't really matter how it got started as long as it ends up somewhere good.

aren't T-rays potentially dangerous?


I don't think there's been enough experimentation to really determine that, but I did find this:
Modelling DNA Response to THz Radiation
http://arxiv.org/...53v2.pdf
kochevnik
1 / 5 (3) Jan 21, 2012
aren't T-rays potentially dangerous?
Not if used only for profits. On conservatives.
I'm sure that with sufficient diversity training, Cyborgs will eventually be accepted.
Not the gay ones
GSwift7
1 / 5 (1) Jan 23, 2012
Might make a good tool for bomb disposal in the short term, if they really can make an airport scanner type device that's portable. Of course, there's always a danger in shooting EM waves into an explosive device, so you would still want to use a robot.
MarkyMark
1 / 5 (1) Jan 24, 2012
aren't T-rays potentially dangerous?
Not if used only for profits. On conservatives.
I'm sure that with sufficient diversity training, Cyborgs will eventually be accepted.
Not the gay ones

What a moronic and hatefilled post. Must be from a Satanist, as this is definatly not Christian.
MarkyMark
1 / 5 (1) Jan 28, 2012
This is an amazing innovation. I can't stress enough how important this will end up being in diagnosis (both medical and in fields like failure analysis) if this research pans out. This could very well end up being as important as the invention of the x-ray machine or the MRI scanner.

Gave you a one for failure of reading comprehension ( of my post )!!!

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