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Spire to Develop THz Laser Technology

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BEDFORD, Mass., June 24 -- Spire Corp., a Bedford, Mass.-based manufacturer of photovoltaic module manufacturing equipment and surface treatments for the biomedical industry, is developing nano-engineered gallium arsenide layers for fabrication of miniature terahertz (THz) lasers under an Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR)-funded, $99,000 Phase I Small Business Technology Transfer Research project.

The project involves the design of a new, gallium arsenide-based nano-engineered epitaxial wafer structure that can be cost-effectively produced in large quantities. Epitaxial wafers based on a new design, carried out in collaboration with Professor Shun-Lien Chuang of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, are being produced by Spire's subsidiary, Bandwidth Semiconductor.

Spire said the Phase I contract is expected to result in a demonstration of growth feasibility. Bandwidth plans to offer such wafers for commercial sale. Spire said it also expects to receive complementary THz development support from the Army and DARPA.

Spire said its compact THz radiation source has broad applications for instruments used in the defense against terrorism and in biological agent detection, as well as DNA structure identification and a number of medical diagnostics tools. It said the Phase I program can potentially lead to a Phase II program of as much as $500,000.

Spire's quantum cascade laser device consists of hundreds of nanometer-thick gallium arsenide-based layers. The company said the laser itself will be the size of a pencil tip and is expected to be "extremely reliable and inexpensive." It will produce terahertz radiation that occurs between the infrared and microwave regions of the electromagnetic spectrum.

"This radiation is strongly absorbed by water and tissue, but is transmitted by most other, nonmetal materials, making it possible to penetrate clothing or packaging materials, to detect hidden weapons, explosives or biological materials," Spire said.

"Terahertz radiation has already been demonstrated to be capable of revealing hidden tooth decay and early skin cancers. It can also identify complex DNA and other molecular structures by looking at their unique THz spectral signatures. Since THz radiation has even lower energy than visible light, human safety issues are not expected to be of concern," according to the company.

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Jun 2004
AFOSRAir Force Office of Scientific Researchdefensegallium arsenideindustrialminiature terahertznano-engineeredNews & FeaturesSPIREterahertz lasersTHz

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