If you thought your cell phone’s capability to replace the pre-packaged ringtones with real songs was amazing, wait till you hear this! (This is the year 2003, isn’t it?) Though it probably won’t immediately be available for smartphones owned by the public, the technology may soon exist for handheld electronic devices to see through solid objects. But don’t you call them X-rays, cause that shit’s played.
Tiny and affordable microchips radiating terahertz waves (T-rays) are the next evolutionary step in the human race becoming an army of Supermen. The next step is obviously fashionable exo-underwear. Bringing the terahertz frequency’s potential into practical use was the project of Ali Hajimiri, Professor of Electrical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology, along with postdoctoral scholar Kaushik Sengupta, as reported in the IEEE Journal of Solid-State Circuits. They used the complimentary metal oxide semiconductor technology used to make the microchips in many common electronics, designing silicon chips that fit on the tip of a pinky finger, but are fully-functional at operating within the terahertz frequencies. Hajimiri says it’s “the same low-cost, integrated-circuit technology that’s used to make the microchips found in our cell phones and notepads today,” and that the chip “operates at nearly 300 times their speed.” He says it so simplistically that it makes me wonder why monkeys with typewriters haven’t written a teleplay in which the technology is invented.
This isn’t something you’d find in the back of a comic book. It’s stronger than anything else, the images it produces are of extremely high definition, and the waves themselves can be programmed to point in a specific direction, itself a never-before accomplished feat. What would you do with one of those x-ray machines your bags pass through at the airport? They may not be there for that much longer if this groundbreaking approach to scanning takes over. I picture a ping pong paddle that you can wave over a Christmas present, showing you what’s inside, and disappointing you to know that you hate that brand of macaroni and cheese. Everybody else gets macaroni and cheese as presents, right? The precision of the device is such that it can pick up on a razor blade hidden inside plastic, or even a chicken’s fat content.
Proving again that bigger isn’t always better, the duo conquered the technology’s persistent problems in scaling down the size while escalating the efficiency. Transistors aren’t able to amplify signals at the terahertz frequencies, so instead of a single beefed-up transistor, a large group of them were used, all working as one at the same frequency, harnessing and boosting the power of many without sacrificing space. To get around the actual transmission of the produced signal, the team created the chip in such a way that different miniature metal segments on the chip could be operated in specific ways, making the entire chip an antennae unto itself.
This story, and its innovative use of existing objects to create far more effective ones is another solid example of book smarts and common sense being two entirely different sides of the genius coin. As far as implementing its use into society, airports and hospitals are the go-to places initially. The medical capabilities for this are far-reaching and all positive, since T-rays don’t share the same damaging characteristics as X-rays. Do I need to even mention how the military can use this? Bah. I dare not even let my mind wander into the murky waters of how this technology can be used in the private sector. Because that’s what the comment sections are for. Go nuts, you closeted Clark Kents.