Dr. Kenneth O, director of the Texas Analog Center of Excellence and a professor of electrical engineering, left, worked with a team including Dae Yeon Kim, who was among the authors of the research report.
Comic book hero superpowers may be one step
closer to reality after the latest technological feats made by researchers at University of Texas at Dallas (UT Dallas). They have
designed an imager chip that could turn mobile phones into devices that can see
through walls, wood, plastics, paper, and other objects.
The team’s research linked two scientific
advances. One involves tapping into an unused range in the electromagnetic
spectrum. The other is a new microchip technology.
The electromagnetic spectrum characterizes
wavelengths of energy. For example, radio waves for AM and FM signals, or
microwaves used for cell phones or the infrared wavelength that makes night
vision devices possible.
But the terahertz band of the electromagnetic
spectrum, one of the wavelength ranges that falls between microwave and
infrared, has not been accessible for most consumer devices.
“We’ve created approaches that open a
previously untapped portion of the electromagnetic spectrum for consumer use
and life-saving medical applications,” said Kenneth O, PhD, professor of
electrical engineering at UT Dallas and director of the Texas Analog Center of
Excellence(TxACE). “The terahertz range is full of unlimited potential that
could benefit us all.”
Using the new approach, images can be created
with signals operating in the terahertz (THz) range without having to use
several lenses inside a device. This could reduce overall size and cost.
The second advance that makes the findings
applicable for consumer devices is the technology used to create the microchip.
Chips manufactured using CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor)
technology form the basis of many consumer electronic devices used in daily
life such as personal computers, smartphones, high-definition televisions, and
“CMOS is affordable and can be used to make
lots of chips,” Dr. O said. “The combination of CMOS and terahertz means you
could put this chip and receiver on the back of a cellphone, turning it into a
device carried in your pocket that can see through objects.” Due to privacy
concerns, Dr. O and his team are focused on uses in the distance range of less
than four inches.
Consumer applications of such technology could
range from finding studs in walls to authentication of important documents.
Businesses could use it to detect counterfeit money. Manufacturing companies
could apply it to process control. There are also more communication channels
available in terahertz than the range currently used for wireless
communication, so information could be more rapidly shared at this frequency.
Terahertz can also be used for imaging to
detect cancer tumors, diagnosing disease through breath analysis, and
monitoring air toxicity.
“There are all kinds of things you could be
able to do that we just haven’t yet thought about,” said Dr. O, holder of the
Texas Instruments Distinguished Chair.