You know those scanners implemented by the TSA that can see through your clothing? They utilize terahertz (THz) radiation and it turns out that this could literally “unzip” the DNA molecule. And now they’re thinking of implementing the technology in mobile devices.
Fitting somewhere between microwaves and infrared on the electromagnetic spectrum, the terahertz wave is able to penetrate through porous material like clothing and wood, allowing the TSA security personnel to see if you’re hiding something in your underwear. It could also be used by medical professionals to find small tumors without invasive surgery or, in a more novel sense, for consumers to get “X-ray vision” like Superman.
But all is not well. Dr. Boian Alexandrov is a researcher at the Center for Nonlinear Studies at Los Alamos National Laboratory and he has found that terahertz waves destroy human DNA, unzipping the helix strand. This could cause sickness, cancer or even death. To make matters worse, Dr. Kenneth O, director of the Texas Analog Center of Excellence and a professor of electrical engineering, University of Texas at Dallas have developed a CMOS chip for mobile phones that broadcast THz waves, giving cell phones radiation imaging capabilities. It sounds cool, but could be dangerous.
“CMOS is affordable and can be used to make lots of chips,” Dr. O said. “The combination of CMOS and terahertz means you could put this chip and a transmitter on the back of a cellphone, turning it into a device carried in your pocket that can see through objects.” Due to privacy concerns, Dr. O and his team are focused on uses in the distance range of less than four inches.
Clearly, more research is warranted.