Microchip Gives Phones X-Ray Vision

A silicon device inside of a mobile phone enables anyone to search for harmful material, drugs, or even health diagnoses.

Engineers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have developed a microchip that can act as an X-ray tool for any electric device. These tiny inexpensive silicon microchips generate and radiate high-frequency electromagnetic waves, called terahertz (THz) waves, that can penetrate a variety of materials without the ionizing damage of X-rays. While easily penetrating packaging materials and rendering image details in high resolution, and the THz waves can also detect the chemical fingerprints of pharmaceutical drugs, biological weapons, or illegal drugs or explosives, enabling a broad range of applications in different fields.

Most existing THz systems involve large and expensive laser setups, but the team’s compact and low-cost technology can be incorporated into most handheld devices, leading to applications in homeland security, wireless communications, healthcare, and even gaming.

Designers Ali Hajimiri and Kaushik Sengupta says of these microchips:

Using the same low-cost, integrated-circuit technology that’s used to make the microchips found in our cell phones and notepads today, we have made a silicon chip that can operate at nearly 300 times their speed. These chips will enable a new generation of extremely versatile sensors.

California Institute of Technology

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