New Camera Uses Lasers and Terahertz Waves to Capture "Unseen" Detail inside Objects

The terahertz camera can "see inside" objects by using laser light patterns.
Fabienne Lang
An artistic rendering of a terahertz field transmitted by an abstract object. University of Sussex

Thanks to a team of physicists from the University of Sussex, it's now possible to see inside solid objects. 

The team developed the non-linear camera that's able to capture high-resolution images of the interior of solid objects by using terahertz (THz) radiation. This makes it the first-ever of its kind. 

Their study was published in the journal Optical Society.


A terahertz camera

The team's THz camera uses laser light patterns in order to "see inside" objects. In doing so, these images can disclose minute hidden features of living things. 

Images that are produced from THz radiation are called "hyperspectral," as they are made up of pixels, each of which contains an electromagnetic signature of the object at that precise point. 

THz radiation can easily penetrate materials such as paper, clothes, and plastic, just as X-rays do, however without being harmful. This type of radiation is safe to use in even the most delicate biological samples. 

New Camera Uses Lasers and Terahertz Waves to Capture "Unseen" Detail inside Objects
The camera uses a nonlinear crystal to convert standard laser light to terahertz patterns, allowing the reconstruction of complex samples using a single terahertz pixel, Source: University of Sussex

What's incredible with THz imaging is that thanks to its preciseness it's able to differentiate even the smallest granule — for instance, between a grain of sugar and cocaine. 

As per lead researcher of the study, Professor Marco Peccianti of the Emergent Photonics Lab said "The core challenge in THz cameras is not about collecting an image, but it is about preserving the objects spectral fingerprint that can be easily corrupted by your technique. This is where the importance of our achievement lies. The fingerprint of all the details of the image is preserved in such a way that we can investigate the nature of the object in full detail."

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Up until now, it had not been thought possible that a camera could capture a hyperspectral image that could preserve all the fine details that THz radiation reveals. 

Dr. Totero Gongora, the co-author of the research, stated that "This is a major step forward because we have demonstrated that all the possibilities explored in our previous theoretical research are not only feasible, but our camera works even better than we expected."

New Camera Uses Lasers and Terahertz Waves to Capture "Unseen" Detail inside Objects
An artistic rendering of the terahertz field transmitted by an abstract object, Source: University of Sussex

Dr. Gongora continued to explain the importance of their research: "The next phase of our research will be in speeding up the image reconstruction process and taking us closer to applying THz cameras to real-world applications; like airport security, intelligent car sensors, quality control in manufacturing and even scanners to detect health problems like skin cancer."