Equipment that can see anthrax inside envelopes or explosives in luggage

Equipment that can ‘see’ anthrax inside envelopes or explosives in luggage by recognising the distinctive shape of their molecules will be developed by researchers in the newly-built terahertz lab at Leeds, England.

It is the largest lab of its kind in the UK, which leads the world in this area. The lab will pioneer research into the unexplored terahertz band of the electromagnetic spectrum, where radiation produced by many molecular structures exists.

Terahertz radiation can identify – or ‘fingerprint’ – substances by detecting the unique way their molecules vibrate and rotate.

Head of the research team, Professor Giles Davies (above) of electronic and electrical engineering, said terahertz technology would open up whole new possibilities for detection and have applications in the identification of diseases, in security scanning and even astronomy.

“The terahertz region has steadfastly resisted the advances of scientists because the devices used above and below these frequencies operate in completely different ways. Now we have technologies we can use to explore the terahertz region of the spectrum,” said Professor Davies.

On the electromagnetic spectrum, terahertz frequencies sit in an area which neither optical nor electronic techniques have been able to explore – between microwaves, used for mobile phone communication, and infra-red.

The terahertz lab will use so-called ‘broadband source’ and ‘quantum cascade laser’ technologies to explore the terahertz band, investigating how to recognise the molecules in different materials and how terahertz frequencies interact with matter.

The lab is being funded by the Wolfson equipment fund and SRIF round II. http://www.leeds.ac.uk

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