Adventures on the Low End of the Electromagnetic Spectrum

by Gabrielle DeMarco on June 15, 2009

What is between infrared radiation and microwaves? I will give you a hint – It isn’t a high tech Lean Cuisine. It is terahertz radiation, and Rensselaer Post-Doc William Stillman wants you to know about them.

And why should you care about a small portion of the electromangetic spectrum? Because someday it could save your life.

Unlike X-rays (T-rays’ much shorter cousins), T-rays can create an image of a material at low energy levels. This means that even when imaging something very fragile like human tissue, they don’t give off harmful radiation. So, patients may someday be able to say goodbye to the lead blanket during an X-ray session. When scanning different materials with T-rays, researchers can see each material’s unique terahertz fingerprint. This makes it easy to differentiate something like anthrax from baby powder without ever needing to touch or open a suspicious package.  

I could continue, but in this case I will let the scientist speak for himself. Stillman (pictured above at work in the Rensselaer Center for Terahertz Research) drafted a behind-the-oscilloscope article detailing his adventures with T-rays on the science news website LiveScience. The article is part of a partnership with the National Science Foundation, which is helping support Stillman’s research. Check out Stillman’s article for the inside scope on the T-ray.