T-ing up a new image

TeraView, a UK pioneer in terahertz scanning, has raised £6m in new funding in what amounts to a major vote of confidence for the emerging technology.

TeraView’s system, which can generate and detect tHz light, is aimed at applications ranging from weapons detection to early-stage cancer screening.

The company has been tipped regularly as one of the UK’s brightest hi-tech prospects since it was spun-out from Toshiba Research Laboratories in 2001.

It was one of the first to specialise in THz light, which operates in largely untapped frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum between infrared and radio waves.

THz rays, or T-rays, are emerging as a scanning technology to rival X-rays or ultrasound for certain applications. But most research is carried out in universities. TeraView is one of a handful of organisations actively commercialising it.

The new investment will allow it to complete work on prototype products in markets in which rapid early progress could be possible.

TeraView is believed to have identified detection of weapons and explosives and quality assurance in the pharmaceutical industry as two of its top priorities.The firm launched the first commercial THz spectrometer last autumn with Bruker Optics, a specialist in spectroscopy technology.

The instrument is a general-purpose device that can be used in a range of industries, but TeraView said it plans to launch products this year designed specifically for the pharmaceutical sector.

THz imaging could be used to check that the chemical properties of batches of products are correct.

Quality assurance is a major issue for the pharmaceutical industry, particularly in the US where it is subject to draconian regulation by the Food and Drug Administration.TeraView’s other key initial market, weapons and explosives detection, has grown massively since September 11.

T-rays can be used to scan for non-metallic weapons that would elude conventional metal detectors or X-ray machines, such as plastic explosives or biological agents.However, while pharmaceutical and security offer immediate opportunities, THz technology is expected to have major medical applications over the longer-term. T-rays are highly adept at distinguishing healthy cells from cancerous ones, and trials of the technology for early detection of skin cancer are underway.

THz imaging is also expected to enable earlier detection of tooth decay.

On the web