Turning to Terahertz for Chemical Detection
Take a silicon wafer, add a bit of boron in just the right amount, place the
wafer inside a cellphone-sized laser-style pointer device that uses
semiconductor nanostructures and voilà: a handheld machine that harnesses
terahertz frequencies to find cancers in the human body or determine the
chemical makeup of hazardous waste spills.
A team at the University of
Delaware is perfecting their terahertz findings, writes Jean Thilmany.
Somewhere between light waves and radio waves lays a relatively unexplored
part of the electromagnetic spectrum — the terahertz frequencies that
University of Delaware Professor James Kolodzey calls the final frontier in
the study of electromagnetic waves.
He's exploring ways to put those
frequencies to practical, everyday use in the medical and hazardous waste
industries, among others.
Terahertz frequencies are 1000 times higher than microwave frequencies and
100 to 1000 lower than visible light. Because terahertz frequencies are
easily absorbed by moisture in the atmosphere, they don't travel long
distances; for that reason they haven't garnered the study given microwave
frequencies used in cellphones and ovens.
For years, researchers thought
terahertz frequencies had no modern-day use. But Kolodzey, an electrical and
computer engineering professor realized terahertz could be of great value for
"The region we call terahertz interacts with molecules and chemicals and
biological agents in the air; there are interesting resonances and
dispersions," Kolodzey said. "That makes them ideal for sensing the chemical
composition of the environment. In this day and age, that's practical for
analyzing and measuring."
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