Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Improvements in MRIs, other image-detection applications on the horizon


Sandia, Rice University, Tokyo Institute of Technology developing terahertz detectors with carbon nanotubes

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories, along with collaborators from Rice University and the Tokyo Institute of Technology, are developing new terahertz detectors based on carbon nanotubes that could lead to significant improvements in medical imaging, airport passenger screening, food inspection and other applications.

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories, Rice University and the Tokyo Institute of Technology developed a terahertz detector using several nanoscopic-sized tubes, creating a macroscopic thin film that contains a mix of metallic and semiconducting carbon nanotubes.

Credit: Dino Vournas, Sandia National Laboratories

A paper in Nano Letters journal, "Carbon Nanotube Terahertz Detector," debuted in the May 29 edition of the publication's "Just Accepted Manuscripts" section. The paper describes a technique that uses carbon nanotubes to detect light in the terahertz frequency range without cooling.

Historically, the terahertz frequency range — which falls between the more conventional ranges used for electronics on one end and optics on another — has presented great promise along with vexing challenges for researchers, said Sandia's François Léonard, one of the authors.

"The photonic energy in the terahertz range is much smaller than for visible light, and we simply don't have a lot of materials to absorb that light efficiently and convert it into an electronic signal," said Léonard. "So we need to look for other approaches."

Terahertz technology offers hope in medicine and other applications

Researchers need to solve this technical problem to take advantage of the many beneficial applications for terahertz radiation, said co-author Junichiro Kono of Rice University. Terahertz waves, for example, can easily penetrate fabric and other materials and could provide less intrusive ways for security screenings of people and cargo. Terahertz imaging could also be used in food inspection without adversely impacting food quality.

Perhaps the most exciting application offered by terahertz technology, said Kono, is as a potential replacement for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology in screening for cancer and other diseases.

"The potential improvements in size, ease, cost and mobility of a terahertz-based detector are phenomenal," he said. "With this technology, you could conceivably design a hand-held terahertz detection camera that images tumors in real-time, with pinpoint accuracy. And it could be done without the intimidating nature of MRI technology."

Carbon nanotubes may help bridge the technical gap

Sandia, its collaborators and Léonard, in particular, have been studying carbon nanotubes and related nanomaterials for years. In 2008, Léonard authored The Physics of Carbon Nanotube Devices, which looks at the experimental and theoretical aspects of carbon nanotube devices.

Carbon nanotubes are long, thin cylinders composed entirely of carbon atoms. While their diameters are in the 1- to 10-nanometer range, they can be up to several centimeters long. The carbon-carbon bond is very strong, so it resists any kind of deformation.

The scientific community has long been interested in the terahertz properties of carbon nanotubes, said Léonard, but virtually all of the research to date has been theoretical or computer-model based. A handful of papers have investigated terahertz sensing using carbon nanotubes, but those have focused mainly on the use of a single or single bundle of nanotubes.

The problem, Léonard said, is that terahertz radiation typically requires an antenna to achieve coupling into a single nanotube due to the relatively large size of terahertz waves. The Sandia, Rice University and Tokyo Institute of Technology research team, however, found a way to create a small but visible-to-the-naked eye detector, developed by Rice researcher Robert Hauge and graduate student Xiaowei He, that uses carbon nanotube thin films without requiring an antenna. The technique is thus amenable to simple fabrication and represents one of the team's most important achievements, Léonard said.

"Carbon nanotube thin films are extremely good absorbers of electromagnetic light," he explained. In the terahertz range, it turns out that thin films of these nanotubes will soak up all of the incoming terahertz radiation. Nanotube films have even been called "the blackest material" for their ability to absorb light effectively.

The researchers were able to wrap together several nanoscopic-sized tubes to create a macroscopic thin film that contains a mix of metallic and semiconducting carbon nanotubes.

"Trying to do that with a different kind of material would be nearly impossible, since a semiconductor and a metal couldn't coexist at the nanoscale at high density," explained Kono. "But that's what we've achieved with the carbon nanotubes."

The technique is key, he said, because it combines the superb terahertz absorption properties of the metallic nanotubes and the unique electronic properties of the semiconducting carbon nanotubes. This allows researchers to achieve a photodetector that does not require power to operate, with performance comparable to existing technology.

A clear path to performance improvement

The next step for researchers, Léonard said, is to improve the design, engineering and performance of the terahertz detector.

For instance, they need to integrate an independent terahertz radiation source with the detector for applications that require a source, Léonard said. The team also needs to incorporate electronics into the system and to further improve properties of the carbon nanotube material.

"We have some very clear ideas about how we can achieve these technical goals," said Léonard, adding that new collaborations with industry or government agencies are welcome.

"Our technical accomplishments open up a new path for terahertz technology, and I am particularly proud of the multidisciplinary and collaborative nature of this work across three institutions," he said.

In addition to Sandia, Rice and Tokyo Tech, the project received contributions from researchers taking part in NanoJapan, a 12-week summer program that enables freshman and sophomore physics and engineering students from U.S. universities to complete nanoscience research internships in Japan focused on terahertz nanoscience.


Sandia National Laboratories is a multi-program laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corp., for the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies and economic competitiveness.

Sandia news media contact: Mike Janes, (925) 294-2447,

Mike Janes | Eurek Alert!
Further information:

Further reports about: MRIs Nanotube Sandia Terahertz Terahertz Technology carbon nanotubes detector metallic waves

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht LIGO confirms RIT's breakthrough prediction of gravitational waves
12.02.2016 | Rochester Institute of Technology

nachricht Milestone in physics: gravitational waves detected with the laser system from LZH
12.02.2016 | Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V.

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Production of an AIDS vaccine in algae

Today, plants and microorganisms are heavily used for the production of medicinal products. The production of biopharmaceuticals in plants, also referred to as “Molecular Pharming”, represents a continuously growing field of plant biotechnology. Preferred host organisms include yeast and crop plants, such as maize and potato – plants with high demands. With the help of a special algal strain, the research team of Prof. Ralph Bock at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology in Potsdam strives to develop a more efficient and resource-saving system for the production of medicines and vaccines. They tested its practicality by synthesizing a component of a potential AIDS vaccine.

The use of plants and microorganisms to produce pharmaceuticals is nothing new. In 1982, bacteria were genetically modified to produce human insulin, a drug...

Im Focus: The most accurate optical single-ion clock worldwide

Atomic clock experts from the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) are the first research group in the world to have built an optical single-ion clock which attains an accuracy which had only been predicted theoretically so far. Their optical ytterbium clock achieved a relative systematic measurement uncertainty of 3 E-18. The results have been published in the current issue of the scientific journal "Physical Review Letters".

Atomic clock experts from the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) are the first research group in the world to have built an optical single-ion clock...

Im Focus: Goodbye ground control: autonomous nanosatellites

The University of Würzburg has two new space projects in the pipeline which are concerned with the observation of planets and autonomous fault correction aboard satellites. The German Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy funds the projects with around 1.6 million euros.

Detecting tornadoes that sweep across Mars. Discovering meteors that fall to Earth. Investigating strange lightning that flashes from Earth's atmosphere into...

Im Focus: Flow phenomena on solid surfaces: Physicists highlight key role played by boundary layer velocity

Physicists from Saarland University and the ESPCI in Paris have shown how liquids on solid surfaces can be made to slide over the surface a bit like a bobsleigh on ice. The key is to apply a coating at the boundary between the liquid and the surface that induces the liquid to slip. This results in an increase in the average flow velocity of the liquid and its throughput. This was demonstrated by studying the behaviour of droplets on surfaces with different coatings as they evolved into the equilibrium state. The results could prove useful in optimizing industrial processes, such as the extrusion of plastics.

The study has been published in the respected academic journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America).

Im Focus: New study: How stable is the West Antarctic Ice Sheet?

Exceeding critical temperature limits in the Southern Ocean may cause the collapse of ice sheets and a sharp rise in sea levels

A future warming of the Southern Ocean caused by rising greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere may severely disrupt the stability of the West...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

Symposium on Climate Change Adaptation in Africa 2016

12.02.2016 | Event News

Travel grants available: Meet the world’s most proficient mathematicians and computer scientists

09.02.2016 | Event News

AKL’16: Experience Laser Technology Live in Europe´s Largest Laser Application Center!

02.02.2016 | Event News

Latest News

LIGO confirms RIT's breakthrough prediction of gravitational waves

12.02.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

Gene switch may repair DNA and prevent cancer

12.02.2016 | Life Sciences

Using 'Pacemakers' in spinal cord injuries

12.02.2016 | Medical Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>