Terahertz Grows and Spring Shows

E-mail Ray Peacock

Learning the basic physics of a physical property is the first step in developing a technology. Adapting the technology and building instruments and devices that harness those physics is the piece of the process that enables scientists and engineers to make everyday applications a reality. This month, I'd like to look at one particular new technology, terahertz waves, and review a spate of developments in other fields. I'll do the second step by reviewing some of the recent mega conferences and expositions.

Two Giant Steps for Terahertz
In the past few weeks, terahertz (THz or T-ray) technology, which involves the area of the electromagnetic spectrum between the infrared and microwave wavelengths, took two giant steps toward practical industrial application.

Mark Reid, a physicist from British Columbia, tested terahertz imaging as a way of investigating the internal properties of lumber. He was able to see images of the long cellulose fibers in far more detail than the simple dark patches that show density in an X-ray image.

If operators could see inside wood, they could make stronger products and get straighter lumber out of the timber harvested from our forests. And imagine what pest inspectors will be able to do with this technology when it gets to the price range of existing IR imagers. The way technology is moving, it could happen a lot quicker than the 30+ years it took IR imagers to evolve from a lab tool to a broadly used instrument favored by building and pest inspectors.

The science is still growing. With more and better tools, researchers such as Reid are scrambling to be the first to find an industrial application for the underdeveloped technology. Reid thinks T-rays could replace X-rays in imaging applications because they provide better images and do not involve ionizing radiation. Reid is now developing patents and working with Bruce Sutherland, of Wolftek Industries, in Prince George, British Columbia, to create camera-like devices using terahertz waves to see inside wood. The results of his research could well revolutionize the forest-products industry.

On the other side of the continent, Brian Schulkin, a doctoral student in physics at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York state, was awarded the first-ever $30,000 Lemelson-Rensselaer Student Prize. Schulkin invented an ultra-light, handheld terahertz spectrometer, called the "Mini-Z." By itself, this is an advance that could help catapult T-ray technology into the marketplace.

Wonder what would happen if these two physicists put their heads together? If you want to keep up with developments in T-rays, check out the Terahertz Science and Technology Network Web site. It's a great place to find out about the latest and greatest. The site also has an RSS newsfeed that you can add to a modern browser, such as IE7, Firefox, or tools published by Yahoo and Google.

Spring Shows
Soon the spring fling of mega conferences and expositions will be shifting into high gear. The Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy, Pittcon, just wrapped up on March 1st, with a huge meeting and exhibition in Chicago at the McCormick Center. Pittcon produced a flurry of new measurement devices and analyzers for chemical and pharmaceutical producers and researchers. With more than 20,000 attendees this year, it was a huge show. Here's a few of the new products announced at the meeting.

Labcyte introduced two new products using acoustic droplet ejection, the state-of-the-art technology for moving ultra-low volumes of fluids. The Echo liquid-handling platform incorporates a robotic plate handler, bulk filler, plate stackers, scheduling software, and other components into a single integrated system. The Portrait 630 reagent multi-spotter brings automated MALDI matrix deposition to the new field of tissue-imaging mass spectrometry used in proteomics and cancer research.

XStream Systems announced advances in energy dispersive X-ray diffraction, with next-generation equipment for material identification that is as easy to use as it is affordable.

Torion Technologies introduced a miniature gas chromatograph (GC-ITMS) system ideal for rapid (~3 min.) screening of chemical agents, explosives, and hazardous substances.

Aspectrics launched its new encoded photometric near infrared analyzer to enable users in the process industry to monitor their operations in real time. The analyzer has a spectral range of 1375–2750 nm and a scan speed of 100 scans/second.

The first comprehensive line of Plastic Additive Chemical Reference Standards plus their new CRC book, The Handbook for the Chemical Analysis of Plastics and Polymer Additives, are now available on the AccuStandard Web site. Plastic and polymer chemists now have both certified standards and a CRC reference book for their field.

In addition to its preparative supercritical fluid chromatography or extraction system, Jasco now has a new digital polarimeter with unique features and capabilities.

The ThermoSense Conference kicks off April, as part of SPIE's DSS Symposium & Exhibition, the biggest infrared technology meeting in the world. SPIE's DSS meeting runs April 9-13 at the Marriott World Center in Orlando, FL. The exhibition and technical papers in more than 20 separate conferences (including ThermoSense XXIX) provide an unprecedented view of new and emerging technologies. If you go, or subscribe to the resulting conferences publications, you'll discover the latest in optical, infrared, and microwave technologies and applications. You'll learn what's hot now and what's going to be hot 5, 10, even 15 years from now.

Note that the ThermoSense Conference is one of the few in the program that has its presentations available at the meeting. Most of the other meetings take a few months to collect the papers and publish them.

Next comes Interkama in Hannover Germany, the world's biggest instrument and automation exhibition. Amazingly, it's only one of ten separate exhibitions and conferences relating to measurement and automation, all under the banner of Hannover Messe.

Hannover Messe (April 16-20) features the latest in conferences and exhibits on power transmission and control technology, industrial building automation, energy, subcontracting and services, and more. For the industrial interests, the Interkama conference is the showstopper.

Both expositions will usher in new and better products to help make your automation and development work more precise and better overall. Keep your eye on the weekly sensor updates over the next few weeks.

Thanks for reading. See you next month.


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