A New Form of Electromagnetic Radiation Could Bolster Airport and National Security

By Matthew Harwood

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory, with colleagues in Turkey and Japan, have created a compact device that could lead to safer, more powerful passenger screening at airports, according to the lab.

Utilizing T-rays, or terahertz radiation, the research will hopefully translate into a portable, battery-operated device that detects concealed threat objects.

If T-ray devices can be made operational at airports and other checkpoints, it would be a boon to homeland security as T-rays are a safe and powerful form of electromagnetic radiation. A press release explains:

Unlike far more energetic X-rays, T-rays do not have sufficient energy to "ionize" an atom by knocking loose one of its electrons. This ionization causes the cellular damage that can lead to radiation sickness or cancer. Since T-rays are non-ionizing radiation, like radio waves or visible light, people exposed to terahertz radiation will suffer no ill effects. Furthermore, although terahertz radiation does not penetrate through metals and water, it does penetrate through many common materials, such as leather, fabric, cardboard and paper.

These qualities make terahertz devices one of the most promising new technologies for airport and national security. Unlike today's metal or X-ray detectors, which can identify only a few obviously dangerous materials, checkpoints that look instead at T-ray absorption patterns could not only detect but also identify a much wider variety of hazardous or illegal substances.


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