Radio waves, microwaves, X-rays - electromagnetic radiation that we can't actually see is exploited in a number of familiar technologies. But there is still a lot of potential to unlock, notably in the terahertz part of the spectrum. An EU-funded project is conducting research into innovative semiconductors that could open up exciting new possibilities.
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T for transparent? Terahertz (THz) light can go right through a variety of materials that are opaque in the visible range. This, of course, is also true of X-rays, but T-rays are not a type of ionising radiation.
And there are other differences, such as the fact that T-waves would not be able to look deep into the human body. Nonetheless, T-rays could potentially have powerful applications in medicine, such as for the detection of melanoma even in very early stages, or dentistry, for the imaging of teeth.
Other uses include security screening, for example at airports, quality control, and imaging in support of research in many areas. T-waves also hold promise with regard to wireless communication, where they could permit very high data rates.
However, for the technology to really take off, one major obstacle needs to be overcome, say the researchers in the EU-funded Zoterac project. Compact semiconductor sources operating at room temperature are needed.
Zoterac is rising to the challenge. It is working on nano-engineered semiconductors based on zinc oxide, for use in next-generation THz emitters and detectors. By the time this four-year project ends in August 2019, the partners involved expect to have produced results that are plain for everyone to see.