This camera captures images of microscopic items hidden inside objects

The device can image features as small as 60 microns.
Loukia Papadopoulos
An example of an image taken with the new camera.jpg

For the first time ever, Loughborough University scientists have used a terahertz wave camera to capture 3D images of microscopic items hidden inside small objects.

This is according to a study by the institution published on Wednesday.

Lead researcher Dr Luana Olivieri said the breakthrough could have “major implications for a range of fields with relevance in cancer screenings, security, and materials research."

Terahertz waves have long had the ability to penetrate opaque objects without causing harm. However, one of their main limitations was their ability to image microscopic objects.

Dr Olivieri and her team overcame this issue by developing a unique approach known as ‘time-resolved nonlinear ghost imaging’, which combines a range of advanced detection methods and involves manipulating light and measuring how it travels through an object over time.

In their latest study, the researchers proved the technique can capture 3D images of microscopic items by separating and distinguishing information from different depths.

The researchers were able to see features hidden inside the cubes as small as 60 microns, the width of a human hair.

“This new approach is enabling because it allows us to see things that are too small or too obscured to be within reach of traditional methods”, Dr Olivieri said in the statement.

“Reading the story of how light has travelled through an object is often a complex task, but with this process, we can retrieve the information encrypted, unravelling the multidimensional data to unveil hidden and ‘invisible’ objects at the microscale.

“Most importantly, terahertz allows us to see through objects that are not transparent with visible light and produce 3D images.”

Collaborator Dr Luke Peters added: “In medicine, terahertz imaging could be used to detect and diagnose skin cancers that are not visible to the naked eye.

“In security, it could be used to improve the resolution of scanners that are used to search people for concealed weapons or explosives, without the need for physical pat-downs or intrusive searches.

“And in materials science, terahertz imaging could be used to study the properties of new materials and identify defects or impurities that may affect their performance.”

“Our work allows us to expand these capabilities into the microscopic domain. I am enthusiastic about the potential benefit for society.

The study has been published in ACS Photonics.

Study abstract:

In this work, Olivieri et al. propose a novel methodology to retrieve volumetric microscopic images at terahertz frequencies. The approach combines nonlinear conversion of an optical structured beam with a time-resolved field-sensitive detection. The highly entangled spatiotemporal "subwavelength" information––where the object's size is smaller than the wavelength––is here unraveled.

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