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Updated: July 8th, 2008 05:26 PM CDT

Handheld 'T-ray' Device Earns New $30,000 Lemelson-Rensselaer Student Prize

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The Next Wave in Sensing and Imaging

T-rays are based on the terahertz region of the electromagnetic spectrum, which is defined by frequencies from 0.1 to 10 terahertz -- just between infrared light and microwave radiation. "Terahertz waves are the last window in the electromagnetic spectrum to be exploited by scientists," Schulkin said.

T-rays are useful for imaging defects within materials without destroying the objects or even removing them from their setting, and they offer major advantages over other techniques, according to Schulkin. They can penetrate many dry, non-metallic materials with better resolution than microwave radiation; they don't pose the same health risks as X-rays; and unlike ultrasound, terahertz waves can provide images without contacting an object.

And T-ray systems offer more than just images: they can provide valuable spectroscopic information about the composition of a material, especially in chemical and biological species. Scientists have been exploring the terahertz region for more than two decades, but one of the main obstacles has been the size and weight of T-ray devices. "Conventional systems are tied down to the bench," Schulkin said. "They are incredibly heavy, not portable, and require high-powered lasers, which are both expensive and large."

The Mini-Z, however, is about the size of a laptop computer, and it doesnot require any peripheral equipment. "The first time the Mini-Z was on display, the kinds of comments we got were, 'Where is the rest of it?'" Schulkin said.

The device also provides real-time data with absolutely no waiting, and its user-friendly design means people do not need special training to operate it. "It's a turnkey system -- all you have to do is open the box, set it up, and turn it on," Schulkin said. "My vision for the Mini-Z is that it will be standard equipment in offices around the world, or in the lab for research."


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