Detection technology uses high precision sensors to discover changes in radiation caused by concealed goods.
A new type of sensor, said to be much faster than competing technologies used to detect and identify hidden objects, has been developed by scientists at the University of Warwick.
Called Q-Eye, the invention senses radiation across the spectrum between microwaves and infra-red – the Terahertz (THz) region of the spectrum. It works by detecting the rise in temperature produced when electromagnetic radiation emitted by an object is absorbed by the Q-Eye sensor, even down to the level of a single photon.
The device could help address the weaknesses reported recently in airport security, where mock weapons and explosives were smuggled through airports, undetected in 95% of cases. It may also prove useful in discovering concealed goods in the retail industry or for non-destructive monitoring, for example quality control in drugs or food. Other applications include astronomical and climate science observations and medical diagnosis.
The patented device involves a thin film of aluminium deposited on top of a silicon layer placed under strain, used to create an electronic cooling (e-cooling) process. The electrons in the silicon layer are so isolated from the silicon lattice they become highly sensitive to incoming radiation. This revolutionary e-cooling process is the secret to Q-Eye sensor’s exceptional performance, enabling fast imaging and material identification.
Made using standard silicon processes, large numbers of detector chips containing designs matched to a particular application can easily be fabricated on large (300mm) wafers with great uniformity, setting it apart from existing technologies.
Professor Parker commented, “We were very surprised when our first very crude prototype showed such impressive speed and detection performance and our initial calculations indicated world-beating detector capability – all this and using silicon.”
Evan Parker and Terry Whall, Professors in Warwick’s Nano-Silicon Group, Physics Department, are currently working on a demonstrator of the device, having been awarded a £100,000 Smart award from Innovate UK. The work is moving out of academic research into the commercial world, where companies involved in the personnel screening market have already expressed interest in the Q-Eye device.
Warwick Ventures, Warwick’s technology transfer business, has helped the professors to create a spin-out company, Q-Eye Ltd, to develop and market the technology.