Terahertz detector research could lead to practical applications

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories, Rice University and the Tokyo Institute of Technology recently began developing terahertz detectors based on carbon nanotubes.

The research, outlined in a paper for Nano Letters, showed the potential for significant improvements in medical imaging, food inspection, airport passenger screening and other efforts. The paper described a way for carbon nanotubes to detect light in the terahertz frequency range without cooling.

"The potential improvements in size, ease, cost and mobility of a terahertz-based detector are phenomenal," Junichiro Kono of Rice University said. "With this technology, you could conceivably design a hand-held terahertz detection camera that images tumors in real-time, with pinpoint accuracy. And it could be done without the intimidating nature of MRI technology."

The researches will next look for ways to improve the design, engineering and performance of the terahertz detector, including integrating an independent terahertz radiation source with the device for applications that need one.

"We have some very clear ideas about how we can achieve these technical goals," François Léonard, a researcher with Sandia and one of the authors of the paper, said. "Our technical accomplishments open up a new path for terahertz technology, and I am particularly proud of the multidisciplinary and collaborative nature of this work across three institutions."