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'T-Ray' technology converts light into sound

Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Tuesday, May 20, 2014, 2:44 PM - Scientists at the University of Michigan are using 'T-Ray' technology to convert light into sound. It's hoped the technique could one day be used to detect concealed weapons and assist with medical imaging, among other things.

Terahertz waves are non-ionizing and capable of penetrating body tissue and fabric, making them useful in spotting concealed objects in clothing and disease in the human body.

Unfortunately the waves are difficult to detect because terahertz frequencies aren't picked up by most light-detection tools.

The detectors that do exist tend to be large, need to be kept cool in order to work and aren't able to provide real-tie updates -- until now.

Courtesy: University of Michigan

Courtesy: University of Michigan

Researchers at the University of Michigan have recently announced they've bridged this so-called "terahertz gap" by developing a specialized, handheld detector and imaging system.

"We convert the T-ray light into sound," said Jay Guo, U-M professor of electrical engineering and computer science, mechanical engineering, and macromolecular science and engineering, in a statement.

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"Our detector is sensitive, compact and works at room temperature, and we've made it using an unconventional approach."

Guo and his team created a transducer that enables light-to-sound conversion at a frequency humans can't detect.

"A transducer turns one form of energy into another. In this case it turns terahertz light into ultrasound waves and then transmits them," the university writes.

Terahertz detectors can already be seen in airports -- but this is the first time scientists have been able to shrink the detector down to the size of a microchip.

If the new handheld technology proves to be viable, the implications are huge.

Airport security, medical diagnostics and astronomy are just a few of the fields that stand to be improved with T-Ray tech.

The come complete study can be found online in Nature Photonics.

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