We’re all used to the changes in the properties of radio frequency systems as the frequency increases and the wavelength becomes shorter. The difference between the way an FM radio and a WiFi adapter behave with respect to their environments, for instance. But these are relatively low frequencies in the scheme of electromagnetic radiation, as you will be aware with ever shorter wavelengths those properties change further until eventually we are not dealing with something we’d describe as radio, but infrared light.
Terahertz waves are the electromagnetic radiation that lies in that area between radio frequencies and infra-red light. You might expect that since science has delivered so many breakthroughs in both radio and IR, we’d have mastered them, but so far very few devices capable of working at these wavelengths have been developed.
A Nature paper from a group at Tufts University holds the promise of harnessing terahertz waves for applications such as data transfer, for they have developed the first terahertz modulator. It takes the form of a section of slot waveguide between two conductors on a substrate, interrupted by what they describe as a two-dimensional electron gas. This is a very thin layer of electron concentration in an InGaAs region of a semiconductor sandwich that can be created or dissipated by electrical stimulus. This creation and removal of the electron layer has the effect of interrupting the flow of terahertz waves in the waveguide, making a functional modulator.
Continue reading “A Terahertz Modulator”
Ten years ago, MIT researchers proved that it was possible to look through an envelope and read the text inside using terahertz spectroscopic imaging. This research inspired [Barmak Heshmat] to try the same technique to read a book through its cover. A new crop of MIT researchers led by [Heshmat] have developed a prototype to do exactly that, and he explains the process in the video after the break. At present, the system is capable of correctly deciphering individual letters through nine pages of printed text.
They do this by firing terahertz waves in short bursts at a stack of pages and interpreting the return values and travel time. The microscopic air pockets between the pages provide boundaries for differentiation. [Heshmat] and the team rely on these pockets to reflect the signal back to a sensor in the camera. Once they have the system dialed in to be able to see the letters on the target page and distinguish them from the shadows of the letters on the other pages, they use an algorithm to determine the letters. [Heshmat] says the algorithm is so good that it can get through most CAPTCHAs.
The most immediate application for this technology is reading antique books and other printed materials that are far too fragile to be handled, potentially opening up worlds of knowledge that are hidden within disintegrating documents. For a better look at the outsides of things, there is Reflectance Transformation Imaging.
Continue reading “MIT Researchers Can Read Closed Books (and Defeat CAPTCHA)”