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Future scanners will tell the difference between Advil and meth  (Source: MIT)
New scanner tech uses terahertz lasers

Airport security is a huge objective in the United States these days. Airports in America and around the world are beefing up security and researchers scattered around the globe are working hard at developing scanners and detectors that are better at finding potential weapons and explosives that people may try to get onboard aircraft.

New scanner technology that was shown off first in May of 2009 dubbed "whole-body imaging" scanners had passengers and privacy advocates up in arms over the fact that the scanners were able to see through clothing and show anatomical details of passengers. The scanners are deployed at 40 airports at a cost of about $170,000 each. The scanners blur the face of the person being scanned and only the scanner operator sees the scans.

Researchers at MIT have developed a new technology that may one day allow scanners in airports to tell if the substance inside a medication vial is an illegal drug or an explosive. The technology uses lasers with a frequency in the terahertz spectrum. Lasers operating in the terahertz range are absorbed by different molecules in different amounts allowing scanners using the lasers to tell the difference between chemicals.

The researchers say that accurately determining the chemical composition of objects requires exposing it to different and continuous ranges of terahertz frequencies. MIT professor Qing Hu and colleagues have published a paper in the latest issue of Nature Photonics that outlines a method for tuning terahertz quantum cascade lasers. This is the most promising type of laser to provide the needed terahertz radiation for scanners. Terahertz radiation is also said to be safer for human exposure than x-ray radiation.

Researchers discovered that terahertz lasers could be tuned by bringing a block of another material close to the laser beam. The blocks change the wavelength of the laser light allowing for different frequencies. A metal block was found to shorten the wavelength of the laser and a silicon block lengthened it. Varying the distance of the blocks to the laser also changed the extent of the frequency shift in the laser.

The researchers have designed and are now building chips that use microelectromechanical devices to bring the silicon and metal blocks close to the laser from different directions to vary the wavelengths from short to long. In experiments, the researchers used a mechanical arm to move the blocks.

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Terahertz quantum cascade lasers?
By corduroygt on 12/8/2009 11:53:11 AM , Rating: 3
Let's hope they don't accidentally open a portal for the aliens to invade us.

RE: Terahertz quantum cascade lasers?
By Anoxanmore on 12/8/2009 12:10:02 PM , Rating: 2
I just hope there aren't any headcrabs.

RE: Terahertz quantum cascade lasers?
By Redwin on 12/8/2009 12:21:58 PM , Rating: 5
Don't worry, the research is from MIT, so you know there will be plenty of pHd physicists around with sufficient qualification to throw the giant switch and save us; all without saying a word to anyone. ;)

RE: Terahertz quantum cascade lasers?
By corduroygt on 12/8/2009 12:40:04 PM , Rating: 2
I've heard that you need to pass a course in crowbar proficiency to get your PhD in physics from MIT.

By Anoxanmore on 12/8/2009 12:51:32 PM , Rating: 2
Ahh, so that explains all those orange suits I saw while I was visiting MIT.

By theslug on 12/8/2009 12:31:05 PM , Rating: 3
Otherwise there might be unforeseen consequences?

Hide something in your face
By nafhan on 12/8/2009 12:31:47 PM , Rating: 2
The scanners blur the face of the person being scanned and only the scanner operator sees the scans.
Hadn't thought about this before, but what if someone concealed something in their mouth or skull? If it could be passed off as a metal plate or dental work, it sounds like they could get past current airport scanners. Get 4 or 5 people to go through different checkpoints each carrying a seperate piece of a "device"...

By ClownPuncher on 12/8/2009 12:42:07 PM , Rating: 3
Previously, on "24"...

RE: Hide something in your face
By TheEinstein on 12/9/2009 6:58:31 AM , Rating: 2
Just shove 4 pounds up your rectum... and stand RIGHT BEHIND THE OLD LADY IN THE LINE (safest spot, she always gets picked to get checked)

Or if you know your meeting Allah (aka Satan) during the airline flight, you can just have surgery to replace your body fat with something more... napalmy? plastiquey? The decisions are going to be yours.

Interested in a more long term solution? Need to live, but want to kill a few people, send a message? Wooden weapons are easy to make, just need to seal the gunpowder and sulfur correctly. Wooden bullets wont pierce the skin, but will penetrate a human, and they are so painful as to be believed (Outlawed in US during civil war for the inability to get all slivers out, the festering wounds, the pain they cause without necessarily killing, etc).

Wanna send a message, but not get in danger? Pack your buttocks with grey silly putty. Go to bathroom. Remove it. Shape it into a rectangle. Go out saying it is C-4.

I could go on for quite a while. Honestly airline security is about idiots not having imaginations and getting caught by acting dumb. Really it is.

I don't get it
By AssBall on 12/8/2009 12:38:53 PM , Rating: 2
Terahertz spectrum is between infrared and into visible. how the hell do you see thru a bag with that frequency?

RE: I don't get it
By Redwin on 12/8/2009 1:17:07 PM , Rating: 3

They actually lie on the other side of infrared; between infrared and microwave, not infrared and visible.

Microwaves penetrate quite well, so it makes sense that a frequency between them and IR can also penetrate well enough to make a scanner.

RE: I don't get it
By AssBall on 12/8/2009 2:24:21 PM , Rating: 2
That clears things up a bit. TY

By roostitup on 12/8/2009 12:36:43 PM , Rating: 2
I can see this having potential health effects. Is this really a good idea? I mean, I know microwaves and x-rays are bad for you, so why wouldn't this technology be?

Furthermore, we aren't having ANY problems catching the people who are currently bringing things in airports that they shouldn't, so why do we need this if metal detectors and personal searches are doing their job? It just seems like paranoia running a muck!

RE: Health?
By Redwin on 12/8/2009 1:23:45 PM , Rating: 2
The difference is the frequency of the EM radiation and how it interacts with your body. Saying "X-Ray radiation is bad so why wouldn't T-radiation be bad" is tantamount to saying "X-rays are bad, so why isn't the light from a flashlight bad, or the radio signal from a walkie-talkie bad?" ... its all EM radiation, some of it just interacts with your cells a lot more than others depending on its frequency.

As for why we need better security scanners in airports, there are a lot of reasons, but I think this sums it up nicely:

Will not set off a metal detector, and will even pass a cursory search by a TSA employee (its just a comb!)... but would be picked up by a T-Scanner.

What we have now amounts to "security theater"... It's designed to make you feel more secure, but it only stops honest people from bringing dangerous items on planes. The list of deadly things a determined terrorist can sneak through a metal detector is ridiculously long.

RE: Health?
By AEvangel on 12/8/2009 3:23:28 PM , Rating: 2
As for why we need better security scanners in airports, there are a lot of reasons, but I think this sums it up nicely:

We don't need more security and furthermore you know this could be easily solved if we just turned security over to the Airlines.

The TSA is under Homeland Security which is one of the worst run agency's in are Govt, their even worse then the DOE and EPA.

Government will fund it
By Regs on 12/9/2009 8:34:44 AM , Rating: 2
If it includes a free anal probe with every device.

By xdfxdf on 12/23/2009 2:47:38 PM , Rating: 2
Gotta love how there's no mention of this:

How Terahertz Waves Tear Apart DNA
A new model of the way the THz waves interact with DNA explains how the damage is done and why evidence has been so hard to gather

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