Using Terhertz Radiation to Blur Our See-Through Vision

By Eric Wolff | August 16, 2010 2:16 am

thruvisionScience fiction movies and TV shows are perpetually trying to see through things: Everyone from Superman to last year’s KITT reboot were all using some method or other to see through walls and clothing. Since we already live in the future, see through technology exists in myriad forms, not the least of which is airport full-body scanning. These scanners are so good at seeing past clothing that they might violate child porn laws in the United Kingdom. So now we’re in the position of trying to find ways to make see-through-stuff technology worse.

Enter the non-ionizing terahertz-frequency radiation. The terahertz range sits betwixt the infrared and the microwave bands of the electromagnetic spectrum. Pretty much everything on the planet emits it, and different objects emit different frequencies. Without any need for an emitter, a receiver could be designed to take pictures in the terahertz range. It wouldn’t have sharp lines, but terahertz radiation has a short range, and the emissions vary depending on the object. It would see people as a hazy silhouette. The radiation passes through wood, ceramics, cloth, and paper, but not metal or water.

In a short range situation —- like an airport security scanner —- a receiver could be installed to watch for the pattern of terahertz radiation. A person’s silhouette would show up fine, but a metal knife or handgun would appear as a black outline on the screen. There are already two companies with equipment like this ready to sell, and at least one CEO claiming the technology can be tuned to pick up radiation from drugs or other contraband a person might be carrying.

Not only would the new technology be safer, and avoid privacy concerns, it might make an airport security guard’s job a little better.

MORE ABOUT: T-Rays, terahertz

Comments (7)

  1. Georg

    the non-ionizing terahertz-frequency radiation

    Why do You write “non ionizing”? Is there a second species
    of that radiation which is ionizing?
    And this radiation is not betwixt, it is the far end of infrared,
    that’s all.

  2. Number 6

    Non-ionizing: Any radiation that will not strip electrons from atoms.
    Ionizing: capable of stripping electrons from atoms.

    The latter include any electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength shorter than that of visible light, mostly including visible light (stripping electrons from the dyes in your eyes allows you to see it). This includes ultraviolet light (causes tanning, skin cancer), x-rays, gamma rays, &c.

    The former include electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths longer than that of visible light. This includes infrared radiation, microwaves (like those from your microwave oven), and radio waves.

    It’s relevant because stripping electrons off biological molecules tends to damage them, and is often/typically carcinogenic. There’s a lot of question about whether non-ionizing radiation is damaging or hazardous to people (beyond their ability in large doses to heat materials). So far, there’s little credible evidence that it is. With ionizing radiation, there’s no question.

  3. humble reader

    “It’s relevant because stripping electrons off biological molecules tends to damage them”
    is true, thus ” (stripping electrons from the dyes in your eyes allows you to see it)” is not
    what happens in vision. Visible light causes isomerization of the retinal cofactor of the
    visual protein rhodopsin leading to conformational changes in the protein which stimulate
    bound G-proteins to initiate the signal cascade.

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