UW-Madison researchers led by Prof. Jiamian Hu have developed a narrowband terahertz (THz) emitter for high-spectral-resolution imaging. The ultra-narrow bandwidth of the new emitter supports selective and accurate identification and imaging of hidden threats such as explosives. It should be straightforward to install in existing THz imaging or sensing devices without requiring major manufacturing effort at the device/system level.
Terahertz imaging is a promising technology for security applications because THz radiation is the only range in the electromagnetic spectrum that simultaneously 1) is safe on people; 2) penetrates most packaging materials such as clothing, cardboards and plastics, and 3) is able to analyze the telltale ‘fingerprints’ of a wide variety of materials (e.g., narcotics, DNAs, explosives) in a non-destructive manner.
Spintronic THz emitters have emerged as potential devices for generating pulses of THz radiation. However, most of these devices deliver relatively broad bandwidth and thus low spectral resolution, meaning that it can be challenging or even impossible to distinguish materials with similar signatures, such as common explosives.
The Hu team’s prototype seeks to efficiently convert laser pulses into THz pulses of ultra-narrow bandwidth for high-spectral-resolution imaging. Their innovative multilayer design achieves higher power than existing technology and helps resolve critical obstacles in the field. The proposed narrowband THz emitter can enable selective and accurate spectral identification and imaging of a wide variety of chemical species and biological molecules with applications from security screening to food quality control to biomedical imaging.
This versatile technology can play in various markets. Its application to detect explosives could lead to a share of a rapidly accelerating market that was worth $6.1 billion globally in 2020 and is expected to reach $8.9 billion in 2026. If used to detect narcotics, it would be part of an almost $4 billion (2021) global market. Both the food and the pharmaceutical industry have great need of technologies that can help with quality control and the identification of substances or counterfeits.
The development of this technology was supported by WARF Accelerator. WARF Accelerator selects WARF’s most commercially promising technologies and provides expert assistance and funding to enable achievement of commercially significant milestones. WARF believes that these technologies are especially attractive opportunities for licensing.
Learn more about Jiamian Hu, a 2021 WARF Innovation Award winner. The annual award recognizes outstanding disclosures with potential high impact and broad benefits to humankind.
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