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Laser-Guided Codes Advance Single-Pixel THz Imaging

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass., June 26, 2013 — A single-pixel imaging method capable of tuning terahertz radiation using laser-guided codes can produce clear images in a matter of seconds.

Unlike other regions of the electromagnetic spectrum, terahertz has proved to be extremely difficult to manipulate for capturing images of objects and materials in which these lightwaves interact. Most existing terahertz imaging devices use expensive technology or require several hours and cumbersome manual controls to generate a viable image, according to Willie J. Padilla, a physics professor at Boston College.

To create accessible and effective terahertz imaging, Padilla and colleagues used optical and electronic controls, developing a single-pixel imaging technique that uses a coded aperture to quickly and efficiently manipulate stubborn terahertz waves.

In the so-called terahertz gap, conventional electronic sensors and semiconductor devices are ineffective. Some systems capture only a fraction of a scene, so tuning these terahertz waves is inefficient. This has fueled the search for new imaging techniques to manipulate the waves.

Overcoming the challenges of mechanics, cost and image clarity are viewed as a crucial step in efforts to tame the terahertz gap since imaging and sensing this frequency holds the potential to advance areas such as chemical fingerprinting, real-time skin imaging to promote simple skin cancer detection, and security imaging of hidden weapons.

Central to this challenge is the development of a technology to create efficient masks — similar to the aperture of a camera — capable of tuning terahertz radiation in order to produce clear images in just a few seconds.


A new method for single-pixel terahertz imaging developed by Boston College researchers uses a set of instructions delivered by a laser beam to tune terahertz waves to produce new types of terahertz images. During the imaging process, terahertz waves pass through an object (a); then they strike a silicon semiconductor (b) given specific instructions about how to sample the image; that data is passed along to digitally reconstruct an image (c) of the original object in just a few seconds. Courtesy of Claire M. Watts, Boston College.

Padilla’s method centers on what he and graduate students David Shrekenhamer and Claire M. Watts describe as a “coded aperture multiplex technique” where a laser beam and electronic signals are used to send a set of instructions to a semiconductor so it can guide the reproduction of the image of an object after terahertz waves have passed through it.

A digital micromirror device encodes the laser beam with instructions that direct certain segments of the silicon mask to react and allow a selected sample of the terahertz waves to pass freely through, consistent with the image pattern. The combination of optical instructions and the reaction of the semiconductor create a terahertz spatial light modulator, the investigators say.

Functioning much as the aperture of a conventional camera, the modulator guides the digital reconstruction of the entire image based on a broad sampling of terahertz waves that have passed through the object.

The method could produce masks of varying resolutions, ranging from 63 to 1023 pixels, the investigators say, and acquire images at speeds up to 0.5 Hz, or about 2 s. The findings have demonstrated the viability of obtaining real-time, high-fidelity terahertz images using an optically controlled spatial light modulator with a single-pixel detector, the researchers said.

Additional research is being done in the lab to enhance terahertz wave control, including the use of intricately patterned metamaterial to manipulate terahertz waves for faster and more efficient image creation, Padilla said.

The research was published in Optics Express (doi: 10.1364/OE.21.012507). 

For more information, visit: www.bc.edu



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