Caltech engineers develop inexpensive ‘X-ray’ technology

terahertz waves x ray chips caltech chip

We bet your kids would just love to get a peek at their presents this holiday season. These days, as long as you wrap your gifts well and keep them out of your kids’ reach, you don’t have to worry about young, inquisitive eyes spoiling their own surprise. In the future, however, they might be able to look through a well-wrapped gift and know what it contains with the aid of their phone. The same technology could be used for an array of applications, including security, health, and even gaming.

Ali Hajimiri and Kaushik Sengupta, a duo of electrical engineers at the California Institute of Technology, have developed silicon microchips that radiate high-frequency electromagnetic waves called terahertz (THz) waves. These waves can pass through solid materials and send back detailed images of what lies behind them. Lying between microwaves and far-infrared radiation, they’re also not harmful like ionizing X-rays. Scientists have long been developing technologies that can utilize the power of terahertz waves, but what’s great about this one is that the special chips were made out of inexpensive, ordinary microchips like the ones used on your phones and tablets. Many existing terahertz systems are costly and bulky at the same time. 

Hajimiri and Sengupta believe their technology could be used in many areas, such as by law enforcement to detect explosives and other threats; in the food industry to determine the components of food (such as the fat content of chicken tissue); in the gaming industry for touchless controls; and in medicine for noninvasive cancer diagnosis. “We are not just talking about a potential,” Hajimiri said. “We have actually demonstrated that this works. The first time we saw the actual images, it took our breath away.” Of course, just like other emerging technologies, these chips could be abused the moment they become readily available. After all, being able to see through solid material is a creeper’s dream come true

(Image credit: Vince at Flickr)


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