One of the most useful types of technology in medicine is the kind that lets doctors look inside the human body. X-rays images are one of the most familiar, but ultrasound and other methods are also used. There is growing interest in “terahertz” imaging that uses very short wavelength (smaller than 1 millimeter) radio waves. This is the technology used in the 360-degree full body scanners are some airport security stations. The problem is that these scanners are bulky, inflexible, and expensive. A scanner that was lightweight, portable, and inexpensive would be a huge improvement.
Researchers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology may have come up with the answer. The key to their design is the use of carbon nanotubes (CNTs) as terahertz detectors. They were able to create an array of 23 sensors on a sheet of plastic. The result is a flexible device that can be wrapped around a part of the body, such as a hand, to provide a three-dimensional image. The sensors detect a wide range of frequencies, which makes them more versatile.
This technology could have broad applications beyond medical uses. The scanners could also perform high-speed imaging in industrial settings, checking the quality of everything from pharmaceuticals to food quality. It may even be possible to create a wearable terahertz scanner that can provide on-going imaging of body parts away from a clinical setting, to monitor the performance of certain body systems.