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Student innovation at Rensselaer holds key to safer remote detection of dangerous materials
Date:2/28/2011

in bomb or hazardous material detection, where the human operator wants to be as far away as possible from the potential threat.

Clough's patent-pending solution to this problem is a new method for using sound waves to remotely "listen" to terahertz signals from a distance. Focusing two laser beams into air creates small bursts of plasma, which in turn create terahertz pulses. Another pair of lasers is aimed near the target of interest to create a second plasma for detecting the terahertz pulses after they have interacted with the material. This detection plasma produces acoustic waves as it ionizes the air. Clough discovered that by using a sensitive microphone to "listen" to the plasma, he could detect terahertz wave information embedded in these sound waves. This audio information can then be converted into digital data and instantly checked against a library of known terahertz fingerprints, to determine the chemical composition of the mystery material.

So far, Clough has successfully demonstrated the ability to use acoustics to identify the terahertz fingerprints from several meters away. He has separately demonstrated plasma acoustic detection from 11 meters, limited only by available lab space. Along with the increased distance from the potentially hazardous material, an additional advantage is that his system does not require a direct line of sight to collect signals, as the microphone can still capture the audio information. Potential applications of Clough's invention, which circumvents the fundamental limitations of remote terahertz spectroscopy, include environmental monitoring of atmospheric conditions, monitoring smokestack emissions, inspecting suspicious packages, or even detecting land mines all from a safe distance.

Clough has presented his findings at several international conferences, and the details of his work have been published in Optics Letters and Physical Review E. His new method for terahertz sens
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Contact: Michael Mullaney
mullam@rpi.edu
518-276-6161
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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