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Nano-Scale Terahertz Antenna May Make Tricorders Real 185

Posted by samzenpus
from the welcome-to-the-future dept.
MrSeb writes "Researchers from Imperial College London and A*STAR in Singapore have shown off a terahertz antenna that's just 100 nanometers across — about 30,000 times smaller than existing terahertz antennae — and two orders of magnitude stronger than other T-ray beam-forming techniques. T-rays are a lot like EHF (extremely high frequency), which is used by millimeter wave scanners in airports, medical imaging, and emerging wireless networking standards like WiGig — but stronger, faster, and more detailed. Where EHF radiation can see through your clothes, T-rays can penetrate a few millimeters of skin. Furthermore, because atoms and molecules have a unique terahertz-range signature, T-ray scanners can detect toxic substances, bombs, drugs — or even cancerous tumors under your skin. Most importantly, though, due to the nano scale of these antennae, it's possible to create huge antennae arrays on a single silicon chip, meaning hand-held T-ray scanners are now a possibility. In the not so distant future, every household might have a Star Trek-like tricorder capable of detecting cancer or other diseases."
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Nano-Scale Terahertz Antenna May Make Tricorders Real

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 23, 2012 @10:40AM (#38791193)

    or giving it to us.

  • by Exitar (809068) on Monday January 23, 2012 @10:40AM (#38791195)

    into "In the not so distant future, every household might have a Star Trek-like tricorder capable of giving you cancer or other diseases."

    • by radtea (464814) on Monday January 23, 2012 @11:23AM (#38791725)

      "In the not so distant future, every household might have a Star Trek-like tricorder capable of giving you cancer or other diseases."

      That's the misinformation the medical establishment would like promulgated, so thanks for getting a jump on it.

      It's really important that technology like this be seen as "potentially dangerous" so it's use can be restricted to highly paid professionals whose business model requires such legal limitations "for your own safety."

      There is exactly zero evidence, for example, that diagnostic ultrasound carries any risks, but there are still limitations on its use (you can buy your own unit but can't use it on people unless you're a trained, insured, highly paid professional.)

      • by amRadioHed (463061) on Monday January 23, 2012 @12:21PM (#38792463)

        There is exactly zero evidence, for example, that diagnostic ultrasound carries any risks, but there are still limitations on its use (you can buy your own unit but can't use it on people unless you're a trained, insured, highly paid professional.)

        The risk of some untrained people using diagnostic ultrasound is that they may tell someone with cancer that they don't see anything to worry about.

        • by yndrd1984 (730475)

          >>There is exactly zero evidence, for example, that diagnostic ultrasound carries any risks, but there are still limitations on its use (you can buy your own unit but can't use it on people unless you're a trained, insured, highly paid professional.)

          >The risk of some untrained people using diagnostic ultrasound is that they may tell someone with cancer that they don't see anything to worry about.

          Good point. Now what are we to do about the risk of an untrained person looking at a person with c

      • by squizzar (1031726) on Monday January 23, 2012 @12:24PM (#38792519)

        Surely some of that protectionism is in the public interest, since those trained, insured, professionals actually know what they are looking at (and when they get it wrong they have liability insurance). Look at all the wonky alternative medicine that's already out there and tell me you want to create an industry of people with legitimate diagnostic equipment that don't know how to correctly gather or interpret the results from those machines and then using them to diagnose people with all manner of nasty things that they probably don't have.

        • The wonky alternative medicine people already found ways to skirt the law by the use of contradictory statements: It's medicine when they want it to be, but isn't when they do not.
  • Awesome! It'll be my next purchase right after I get my flying car!
    • If apple includes the hardware into the next version of iPhone, it would be trivial to create the software necessary to interoperate the scanning results. For that matter, throw in this technology for Droids phones too.

      Imagine the near endless possibilities. Software that will pick up increased pheromone for that nifty little dating app. Or how about one that allows parents to sniff out pot stashes or monitor other illegal forms of drug abuse. Maybe you're a gold prospector in Alaska. Yup, there's an app fo

  • Argh (Score:5, Funny)

    by INT 21h (7143) on Monday January 23, 2012 @10:43AM (#38791237) Journal

    If you meant *medical* tricorder, why didn't you say *medical* tricorder? There's a difference, ya'know.

    • by cpu6502 (1960974)

      What? I'm missing your point.

      Anyway: The airport scanners have been banned in the EU due to potential skin cancer risks. I see the terahertz scanners to be a non-starter that will be banned for the same reason.

      • by ceoyoyo (59147)

        Backscatter X-ray scanners have been banned in Europe. Europe decided to use only millimetre wave scanners.

      • Star Trek doesn't just have 'a' tricorder. There are two classes commonly seen. A general-purpose tricorder (The thing you see them waving around on away missions) and a more specialised medical tricorder (Found in sickbay, and carried by one member only of an away team). The general purpose model has very limited medical functions, and the medical one has very limited general-purpose functions. If it can detect cancer, it should be called a medical tricorder, not just a tricorder.
    • by CAIMLAS (41445)

      No doubt. Imagine my disappointment when I realized I'd not be able to detect energy signature anomolies or approaching weather patterns in real-time, nevermind being able to find things like rare-earth deposits or the massive diamond ring dropped during a bonfire in the back lot last fall.

  • I predict this: should such technology be realized, it will be illegal for ordinary citizens to use it (except as part of carefully restricted appliances), but the police will use it to scan all of us as we walk around.
    • by Khyber (864651)

      I already have the capability of generating 200-800 THz radiation.

      In fact, you can buy such emitters directly from the top link in my signature.

      D'oh.

  • by cashman73 (855518) on Monday January 23, 2012 @10:44AM (#38791267) Journal
    So pretty soon, your cell phone will not only be able to give you cancer, it will also be able to tell you that you have cancer, too! All they need is an app to cure it next! I see a tremendous marketing opportunity here!
  • Correct me if 'm horribly wrong, but in Star trek, even though tricorders are multipurpose sensors, there are different types of them. Like engineering tricorders or just regular tricorders. Every story I see that says tricorders seems to only refer to medical tricorders. But really, if I was given a tricorder, I'd use it for determining the spectrum usage, what kind of radiation is around me, interfacing with computers, etc...

    • ST:VOY (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Holographic Doctor: Hand me a tricorder.
      Clueless Crewman: *hands him a tricorder*
      Holographic Doctor [annoyed]: A medical tricorder.

    • by mcavic (2007672)
      Sure, but while some kinds of engineering tricorders might be possible today, medicine is the killer app.
    • You're right. There are two types: General purpose and medical. On the standard four-man away team, three will carry general-purpose tricorders and one, with specialist training, carries a medical tricorder.

      For reasons of optimal storytelling, an away team is almost always composed of four senior officers. No-one wants to watch middle-management and their flock of ensigns. If you see a non-regular character on an away mission, start placing bets on how long he'll live.
  • Depending on the resistivity of the antenna, its length is N / 10^12 meters (or *3 in feet). For radio N is ~100. Thus a 100 nm length for a THz frequency.
  • There is no money to be made by early detection and early treatment. Medical industry loves chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension that require a steady stream of patented drugs to be continuously consumed with a steady monetized revenue stream. Tricorder, early detection, bah! humbug. Free markets and unfettered capitalism will take you there. Solution is not socialism but fettered capitalism and fostering competition. But don't hold your breath waiting for it, because the fox is guarding the henh
    • There is money to be made by early detection and early treatment. Medical industry loves testinf for chronic diseases that require a steady stream of patented technology to be continuously performed with a steady monetized revenue stream. Assuming tricorders would be patented, and require a professional license to interpret the readouts...

      "Socialists OR Capitalists, you must decide" Nope. This isn't a false dichotomy zone. Socialist constructs such as unions and GOVERNMENTS BY AND FOR THE PEOPLE work

      • As in all things the absolute extremes are uninhabitable; Moderation is key.

        I agree with you, but pl do realize you will be denounced as a redistributionphilic socialist by the Republicans and the Tea party. Anything less than unfettered capitalism is socialism in their book. Crony capitalism, trusts, cartels, monopolies are all A-OK for them while even minimal disclosure requirements like truth-in-lending, truth-in-advertisement are labeled onerous burden and over regulation by the government.

        If you are a free market believing Republican please rescue it from its captors who hav

        • by Lehk228 (705449)
          the first step in correcting misperception is to realize that corporations are an extension of government power, they are legal constructs created by the government in the form of a corporate charter, such constructs ought to be subject to the same constitutional restrictions as government is, in addition corporations should not have the right to challenge a law as unconstitutional any more than the department of education could challenge a law. if shareholders believed a law or regulation improperly targe
  • supply and demand (Score:5, Interesting)

    by roc97007 (608802) on Monday January 23, 2012 @11:11AM (#38791573) Journal

    > In the not so distant future, every household might have a Star Trek-like tricorder capable of detecting cancer or other diseases."

    I find that unlikely. Much more likely: Even though the device itself costs $12 to make, it will be rigidly controlled and only available at high cost (either through insurance premiums or taxes) from your health provider.

    I take one of the most common blood pressure medications available. It's so common and the quantities are so high that manufacture is cheap, so the drug is cheap. I don't even bother with insurance -- I pay cash for the drug. (Approx $20 per month.) However, I can only get it by prescription. My doctor requires monthly visits, including a blood pressure check (fairly pointless as I do it myself 3-4 times a week) and a blood test requiring lab work. After insurance, the cost to me is approx $200 a month. They keep my prescriptions on a short leash, designed to run out right at my appointment date. (Sometimes if they're busy my prescription will run out before my appointment, so when I see them I've been off the drug for 3-4 days, unless I call the office and beg for an extension.) The doctor says this is to insure that I keep my appointment. When I point out I have never missed an appointment and don't deserve to be treated like an errant child, I'm informed that all patients are treated this way.

    To recap, a common, well tested drug that costs $20 a month (cash -- no insurance) that I've been taking for years costs me $220 a month total to take due to additional visits and tests required by the doctor's office before they'll allow me to continue taking the drug. Based on this business model, even if full ST:TNG-type scanners were available for less than the price of an iPad, I strongly suspect the actual devices will be rigidly controlled by law and only available through expensive doctor's visits.

    (In December I told my doctor to shove it. I'm now shopping around for a doctor who doesn't hold my meds hostage.)

    • by chrb (1083577)

      Like many things, medical regulations are often designed to protect the people who are unable, for whatever reason, to take care of themselves. Someone like yourself is probably responsible enough and qualified enough to handle your own medication and measurement of the side effects. However, for every responsible and educated person like yourself, there will be several people who aren't responsibile and educated enough to self-medicate. There are also many people who, in the absense of a prescription syste

    • by MaerD (954222)

      As someone else with high blood pressure, I have to ask: did you ever ask why the doctor is doing so much lab work?

      I don't know what medication you're on, but I know that the one I'm on requires regular checks on kidney function. A previous medication would deplete my Potassium (yay, Bananas). Now to be fair this didn't require MONTHLY checks, but I have normal kidney function and was fairly good about keeping my potassium levels up. If my kidney functions showed a little bit off, or I had some other risk f

      • by roc97007 (608802)

        It was part that, (checking kidney function and potassium level -- I take supplements) but they also insisted on doing a full cholesterol screen (not just the finger prick) every time I went in. I have medium high cholesterol, but a sensitivity to statins -- by the time they get to a dosage that affects my cholesterol level, I need help getting in and out of bed, and walk like an elderly man [1]. So after trying four or five statin with the same results, I've refused to take them, depending on exercise an

    • So bypass your doctor. Inhousepharmacy.biz will likely sell you your drug, probably an even cheaper version made in India, and shipped to your door. You have to sign for it, but that's it. Every once in a while, the package will get seized (although this has never happened to me) and when it does, the company ships you another batch free of charge.
    • by CommieLib (468883)

      In December I told my doctor to shove it. I'm now shopping around for a doctor who doesn't hold my meds hostage

      That's the key. People often have a weird authority relationship with their doctors. The reality of that relationship, at the end of the day, is that he/she is a consultant - just like the consultant you might hire to fix your sink or cut your grass - just better educated and better paid.

      I don't begrudge doctors anything they earn honestly - they went to school for ten years, for Pete's sake. But remember that they're human beings and they're made from the same crooked timber of humanity as all of us.

  • by NEDHead (1651195) on Monday January 23, 2012 @11:13AM (#38791603)

    Why are you wearing clothes?

  • I think the radiation issue referred to by many responders is a little exaggerated. It's not like you will get scanned routinely. ('For instance, every time you step on a plane...) It's much more likely that you will be scanned when other symptoms indicate that something is wrong. Test by, if you go to the doctor for a cough, they don't routinely prescribe a chest x-ray.

    Or, come to think of it, maybe your doctor does. Practices vary widely. Maybe your exposure would depend on how enamored your doctor

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by IAmR007 (2539972)
      Terahertz radiation is not nearly ionizing radiation; it's between infrared and microwave. It can't hurt you unless you use high enough intensities to cause burning.

      The awesome thing about terahertz is that can also be used for spectroscopic analysis as well as imaging. The terahertz energies correspond to crystal phonon energies, which means substances and their crystal structure can be determined by a terahertz scan. This means that for security applications, you don't even need to form an image unless
  • in 3 2 1

  • I see the benefits, but... they're already unwilling to tell us about the toxic results (not to mention, cancer clusters among workers using them) surrounding the existing 'chertoff porno-scanners' as hartmann likes to call them.
  • by hirundo (221676) on Monday January 23, 2012 @11:38AM (#38791907)

    Seems like this story dropped the lede. The most significant use of this technology will be to detect blood glucose levels without lancing through the skin, making it a less dreaded process for millions of diabetics to monitor their conditions.

    • I predict the people who make those monitors will go apeshit over the loss of their profit stream from consumables.

  • Maybe it's because I live in Baltimore and my chance of getting murdered is not too much lower my chance of getting cancer, I'd say forget about scanning for tumors. If they invent something that lets cop cars scan for concealed firearms while they drive down the street, that's at least as much a public health benefit as improved cancer screening. Or does the 2nd amendment mean we have to pretend that getting shot isn't bad for your health? And, just to anticipate to the inevitable psuedo-constitutional
    • by CAIMLAS (41445)

      What does the 2nd Amendment have to do with health, or inner city shitholes with high felony crime rates which encourage illegal firearms? Places like Baltimore.

      You realize that if Baltimore (and Maryland) didn't make it illegal for law abiding citizens to own firearms, there'd probably be a markedly lower murder rate there, right? (Also consider that the majority of murders in the US - over 50%, I think it was 54% - are direct gang on gang related. So, don't be in a gang...)

      Otherwise, who gives a fuck if t

      • by GreenTom (1352587)
        I don't really have an opinion on if we'd be safer with open carry laws or under current laws. Regardless, laws on the books should be enforced--as long as concealed firearms are illegal, it strikes me as fair to use technology to enforce that. My neighborhood (which is not at all an inner city shithole) has had a minor spate of gun crimes recently, including one fairly horrific home invasion followed by kidnapping and forced ATM withdrawals, so this is about more than thugs killing each other.
  • The OP seems to be still suffering from the thought that technology is going to cure it all: terrorism, diseases... C'mon, dude. We live in the XXIth century now.
  • T-rays are a lot like EHF (extremely high frequency), which is used by millimeter wave scanners in airports, medical imaging, and emerging wireless networking standards like WiGig — but stronger, faster, and more detailed. Where EHF radiation can see through your clothes, T-rays can penetrate a few millimeters of skin.

    So, where as the body scanners at airports will give you cancer, this thing will give you SUPER CANCER.

  • Where EHF radiation can see through your clothes, T-rays can penetrate a few millimeters of skin. ...
    T-ray scanners can detect toxic substances, bombs, drugs...

    - that's great, so there will be even more false positives like the one that just happened with senator Rand Paul

    Sen. Rand Paul stopped by TSA at Nashville Airport [wsmv.com]

    Kentucky U.S. Senator Rand Paul was held by TSA officials at Nashville International Airport Monday morning after an "irregularity" was found during the security screening process. ...

    Aides to the senator said Sen. Paul set off a full body scanning machine going through airport security. Sen. Paul claimed it was a "glitch" and wanted to keep going.

    An aide told NBC News that Sen. Paul told the screeners he doesn't have any metal. Apparently it was his right leg that was setting off the scanner. He raised his pant leg and showed them his leg, according to the aide. Paul said it was "clearly a glitch."

    The aide said TSA refused to let him re-scan and demanded that he submit to a full body pat down.

    The TSA said in a news release that "the passenger" was rebooked on another flight and was rescreened without incident.

  • But if you don't have cancer, don't worry, because this device has you covered.

  • I can see them being stuck on/in all sorts of objects like RFID tags are now, scanning everyone that touches them. Clothes, elevator buttons.. Reporting back all sorts of data that is no ones business.

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