Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Terahertz Spectroscopy for Homeland Defense and Microbial ID

Within the next year or so, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) won’t have to touch you to know everything it wants to know about you. Using a new laser-based scanner that fires a beam from about 164 feet, DHS will be able to see everything it wants to see about what's on your body, in your clothes, and what’s in your suitcase or carryon. Reports indicate that the soon-to-be-deployed scanner is so powerful that it can detect everything from what you had for breakfast to the adrenaline level in your body.

This is definitely a long distance über-powerful pat-down!

Their plan is to install this molecular-level scanning in airports and border crossings all across the United States. The official, stated goal of this arrangement is to be able to quickly identify explosives, dangerous chemicals, or bioweapons at a distance. The machine is ten million times faster (think picoseconds), and one million times more sensitive, than any currently available system.

The advantages of the THz-spectroscopy consist of the possibility for nondestructive materials identification and characterization. Thus, allowing application in interdisciplinary areas of the human, health and social science as security, environmental inspection, detection, protection, spectroscopic imaging, biomedical analysis, space communications, tomography imaging, label-free genetic analysis, and chemical/biological sensing and more. The large potential of the method for sensing and identification of chemicals is based on the fact that almost all molecules show spectral characteristics in the THz-region, related to H-bond deformations, skeletal modes, and/or lattice vibrations. The THz region of the electromagnetic spectrum is of great scientific fundamental interest, related the observed linear optical and nonlinear optical phenomena as well.

And, it's not a tool just for homeland defense. The departments of Microbiology and Medicine at the University of Virginia have used THz-spectroscopy to characterize bacterial cells, spores and DNA.

Here is what Dr. Tatiana Globus, Research Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is saying about tho shovel platform:

Terahertz (THz) vibrational spectroscopy is an emerging technique for characterization and fingerprinting of biological and organic materials. The new proposed approach  for coupling between  THz radiation and biomaterials allows for dramatic improvements in sensitivity, reliability, and selectivity of terahertz spectroscopic sensors  with only nanograms of material required for sampling. Integrating the developed spectroscopic instrument with a microfluidic platform will open the way for monitoring interactions between biomaterials and reagents, for studying conformational change and biomedical processes in a near real-time.


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