Novel method for terahertz detection of hidden bioweapons up for award

Benjamin Clough, a student in the Department of Electrical, Computer and Systems Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has developed a novel method for detecting terahertz information that could be used to remotely detect hidden explosives and weapons, including bioweapons.

Clough is one of three finalists for the $30,000 2011 Lemelson-MIT Rensselaer Student Prize, which will be announced on Wednesday, March 9, reports. The project is titled "Terahertz Enhanced Acoustics." His faculty advisor is Xi-Cheng Zhang, a professor at RPI and director of Rensselaer's Center for Terahertz Research.

Terahertz wave technology has been applied to many security and defense applications because sensors can detect these waves, which act as unique fingerprints of hidden materials. The issue with the technology had been that detection only works over short distances, which is a limitation in bomb or hazardous material detection because the human operator wants to be as far away as possible from a threat.

Clough's potential solution uses sound waves to remotely detect terahertz signals from a distance of several meters away, according to He has also demonstrated plasma acoustic detection from as far as 11 meters away, limited only by lab space. The method does not require a direct line of site.

Some applications of Clough's innovation include inspecting suspicious packages, detecting landmines and monitoring smokestack emissions, all from a safe distance.