Terahertz imaging goes the distance

Apr 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: Exploring amazing patterns left behind by drops of whisky left drying in the tumbler

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Senators get no clear answers on air bag safety

4 hours ago

There were apologies and long-winded explanations, but after nearly four hours of testimony about exploding Takata air bags, senators never got a clear answer to the question most people have: whether or ...

Nicaragua: Studies say canal impact to be minimal

4 hours ago

Officials said Thursday that studies have determined a $40 billion inter-oceanic canal across Nicaragua will have minimal impact on the environment and society, and construction is to begin next month.

Former Brown dean whose group won Nobel Prize dies

4 hours ago

David Greer, a doctor who co-founded a group that won the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize for working to prevent nuclear war and who helped transform the medical school at Brown University, has died. He was 89.

Recommended for you

Tiny magnetic sensor deemed attractive

13 hours ago

Ultra-sensitive magnetic sensor technology pioneered at PML may soon be commercialized for a host of applications from detection of unexploded bombs and underground pipes to geophysical surveying and perhaps ...

Beams come knocking on the LHC's door

14 hours ago

Over the weekend, proton beams came knocking on the Large Hadron Collider's (LHC) door. Shooting from the Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS) and into the two LHC injection lines, the proton beams were stopped ...

Climate control in termite mounds

16 hours ago

When they make their way into homes, some species of termites can be destructive pests. Their fungus-harvesting relatives in Africa and Asia, however, are known for their construction prowess, collectively ...

The secret of dragonflies' flight

16 hours ago

Dragonflies can easily right themselves and maneuver tight turns while flying. Each of their four wings is controlled by separate muscles, giving them exquisite control over their flight.

User comments : 0

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.