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National Science Foundation funds AD&T terahertz detector research

May 12, 2011

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Dr. Lei Liu, an assistant research professor in the University of Notre Dame’s Advanced Diagnostics & Therapeutics initiative and Department of Electrical Engineering, leads a team that has been awarded a grant of $415,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for its work on multiband imaging sensors that operate in the terahertz (THz) portion of the electromagnetic spectrum.

The team’s effort to develop an ultra-sensitive heterodyne detector of THz radiation has great potential application in fields ranging from astronomy, to atmospheric physics, to chemical and biological sensing. Because terahertz waves appear to have less of an effect than X-rays on human tissue and DNA, they are also the focus of new medical imaging techniques.

“The engineering around terahertz waves is relatively unexplored,” says Liu. “We’re excited to be developing sensors that can take advantage of this interesting band between infrared and microwaves.”

Liu is also investigating the commercial potential of THz detection. For example, advances in this research could have application in quality control and process monitoring in drug manufacturing. There may also be advantages in using THz in aircraft-to-satellite or satellite-to-satellite communications. Because many materials—such as plastic, cardboard, and clothing—are invisible to terahertz radiation, it is already being used in a number of security-related tools.

Co-principal investigators include Steve Ruggerio and Patrick Fay at Notre Dame, and Arthur Lichtenberger and Robert Weikle at the University of Virginia. Liu’s group received a grant of $359,000 from the NSF last year for a related THz project to develop room-temperature direct detector focal plane imaging arrays.

More information on the grant can be found at the National Science Foundation’s website: http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward.do?AwardNumber=1102214

Advanced Diagnostics & Therapeutics is a Strategic Research Investment of the University of Notre Dame. The initiative is dedicated to developing tools and technologies to combat disease, promote health, and safeguard the environment.