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NSF, Arizona To Develop World’s First Terahertz Spectral Imager

by Editor1 last modified December 14, 2011 - 18:46

The National Science Foundation has awarded the University of Arizona’s College of Engineering $530,000 to develop the world’s first a terahertz spectral imager. The university will bring an added $238,000 to the project. Richard Ziolkowski, UA professor of electrical and computer engineering, will direct the terahertz spectral imager project.

NSF, Arizona To Develop World’s First Terahertz Spectral Imager

Richard Ziolkowski, UA professor of electrical and computer engineering, will direct the terahertz spectral imager.

The custom-made terahertz spectral imager will emit electromagnetic radiation (spectra) in the terahertz range of frequencies, and be used to analyze how the spectra are absorbed and reflected by biological tissues, chemical compounds and novel nano- and meta-materials.

The device will be housed at the University of Arizona’s Spectroscopy and Imaging Facilities. It aims to let scientists expand the frontiers of imaging for many sciences – including study of tumors and pathogens, detection of explosives and more.

This will be a unique instrument in an area that is really starting to grow, according to Ziolkowski. “There are jobs now being created in the terahertz area because people are interested in systems such these imaging devices,” Ziolkowski said. He is the principal investigator for the three-year imager project, and the Litton Industries John M. Leonis Distinguished Professor.

A terahertz spectral imager will help researchers identify any material’s "spectral signature,” the unique pattern of scattering and reflecting of electromagnetic waves directed at it. "We'll be sending out these terahertz signals and receiving signals back and trying to interpret them," Ziolkowski said.

For nano- and meta-materials, the imager will detect the unique manner such materials emit terahertz waves when hit by pulses of laser light. "The meta-materials transform optical pulses into terahertz signals. Laser light comes in, strikes the met material structure, and out comes nice parallel, well-defined beams of terahertz," he added.

In the medical field, the imager could improve skin cancer surgery. "One of the questions with melanomas is how far has the cancer extended around what you actually see" Ziolkowski said, and avoid hazardous X-rays. It could also help detect disease-causing pathogens in cells because different bacteria and viruses have different spectral signatures, Ziolkowski said.

For computing, quality engineers could use the imager to examine computer chips and electronic circuits

Ziolkowski’s co-investigators on project are Pierre Deymier, head of the UA materials science and engineering department, and Michael Gehm, Linda Powers and Hao Xin of the UA electrical and computer engineering department.