Wright Center funding boosts terahertz sensor research

Posted: December 10, 2010

Professor John Volakis
A new, high sensitivity terahertz camera could enable visibility in brown-out conditions, such as during sand storms and/or rotorcraft take-off and landing in desert environments. Terahertz sensors could monitor the purity and quality of pharmaceutical products while on the production line, and be used by consumers to identify unmarked pills. These are just two examples of the groundbreaking research that is ongoing and will continue to grow at The Ohio State University’s new center for research, testing and commercialization of terahertz sensors.

The Wright Center for Sensor Systems Engineering, an Ohio Third Frontier program, recently awarded Ohio State $3 million to establish the Hyperspectral Engine Lab for Integrated Optical Systems (HELIOS). Ohio State will provide an additional $5 million in cost-share funding for equipment and services.

Through HELIOS, researchers aim to explore the still uncharted terahertz spectrum—a large part of the electromagnetic spectrum at frequencies between those of microwaves and infrared light—and utilize Ohio’s resources to develop smaller, faster and lower power terahertz devices.

“Terahertz is much like X-ray imaging as it can penetrate a wide variety of materials,” said John Volakis, director of the ElectroScience Laboratory and principal investigator of the Wright Center grant. “But it is far superior, because it is not harmful to tissues, and can reveal much more information.”

HELIOS’ research focus areas include terahertz wave imaging, active monitoring of electronics chips and pharmaceutical products for purity and quality control on the production line, diagnosing skin hydration for a variety of medical and cosmetic applications; and the next generation of radio frequency integrated circuits for high data rate proximity communications.

Kubilay Sertel, a research scientist at Ohio State’s ElectroScience Laboratory, is currently working with Traycer Diagnostic Systems Inc. to develop the first real-time, high sensitivity terahertz camera that will enable several critical imaging systems. Among these, the immediate applications include diagnosing skin hydration for a variety of medical and cosmetic applications; security screening through clothing and identification of explosive chemicals; enabling visibility in brown-out conditions, such as during sand storms and/or rotorcraft take-off and landing in desert environments; and high resolution subsurface imaging for packaging and quality control.

HELIOS researchers will also investigate new materials for reliable, low loss and low cost printing approaches, and for high performance terahertz devices and systems. HELIOS hopes to acquire and develop a millimeter-wave fabrication facility for peanut size electronics that can be used for low-cost commercial applications. This facility will serve as a learning and technology-transfer center for Ohio electronics companies.

As part of the ElectroScience Laboratory, HELIOS will be housed in the new Radio Frequency and Wireless Communication Research Building, which is scheduled for completion by the end of the year.

“Locating HELIOS at the ElectroScience Laboratory leverages Ohio State’s strong academic research base and engineering expertise in sensors and imaging, and capitalizes on existing investments in facilities, software and instrumentation,” Volakis said.

Three-year projections suggest that HELIOS will result in 62 new Ohio jobs created in addition to 16 academic research jobs. Within eight years, the center is projected to generate 222 new, high-paying technology jobs.

Seven companies and organizations are currently collaborating with the ElectroScience Laboratory in HELIOS: Raytheon Co., Northrop Grumman Corp., Lockheed Martin Corp., Valtronic Technologies, Traycer Diagnostic Systems Inc., TeraView Ltd., and the Institute for Development and Commercialization of Advanced Sensor Technology (IDCAST).

The ElectroScience Laboratory is a major center of excellence within The Ohio State University College of Engineering and is one of the largest radio frequency and optics research laboratories in the country. Established in 1942, ESL’s more than 100 faculty, research scientists and graduate students are involved in all aspects of electromagnetic, radio frequency and terahertz technologies.

The Wright Center for Sensor Systems Engineering  was established by a $24 million grant from Ohio’s Third Frontier Program to Cleveland State University. WCSSE addresses the opportunity to enhance Ohio products using Ohio business and university resources through the development and commercialization of sensors and sensor systems technologies.