Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Inspecting letters with terahertz waves

Date:
May 22, 2014
Source:
Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft
Summary:
Is it a harmless parcel or a bomb, an innocent letter or a drug shipment? A new terahertz scanner is capable of detecting illicit drugs and explosives sent by post without having to open suspicious packages or envelopes.

Is it a harmless parcel or a bomb, an innocent letter or a drug shipment? A new terahertz scanner is capable of detecting illicit drugs and explosives sent by post without having to open suspicious packages or envelopes.

Alert at Schloss Bellevue. A suspicious letter addressed to German President Joachim Gauck has been detected, which might contain a bomb. Not willing to take any risks, the bomb squad is called out to destroy the package. Later investigations revealed that the envelope did not contain any explosives, but better safe than sorry. A year ago, this event created turmoil in the mail sorting office in Berlin, because at the time there was no safe and simple way of reliably detecting the presence of explosives or drugs in letters and small packets.

A new solution is offered by the terahertz scanner developed by researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Physical Measurement Techniques IPM in Kaiserslautern in collaboration with Hübner GmbH & Co. KG in Kassel. Their T-COGNITION system is capable of detecting and identifying the hidden content of suspicious packages or envelopes without having to open them. One of this year's Joseph von Fraunhofer prizes was awarded to Prof. Dr. René Beigang of Fraunhofer IPM and Dipl.-Ing. Thorsten Sprenger, Head of Public Security and Photonics at Hübner, for their work on the terahertz scanner for the secure identification of hazardous materials and illicit drugs in postal consignments.

But why did the scientists choose to use terahertz waves for this application? Professor René Beigang explains: "The terahertz range lies midway between microwave and infrared in the electromagnetic spectrum, and thus combines the advantages of both." Like microwaves, these low-energy frequencies can easily penetrate paper, wood, lightweight fabrics, plastics, and ceramics. Moreover, terahertz waves generate characteristic spectra depending on the type of material they travel through, which can be analyzed quickly using intelligent software. A further significant advantage is that terahertz waves are non-ionizing and therefore safe to use in an unprotected environment, unlike X-rays. This makes the technology an interesting option for use in mail scanners.

Scaling up terahertz technology for industrial applications

Terahertz technology is still in its infancy, and until now it has found relatively few applications. The department of Material Characterization and Testing at the University of Kaiserslautern, sponsored jointly by Fraunhofer IPM and the Land of Rheinland-Pfalz, hopes to change this situation. "Our goal is to scale up terahertz technology and extend its range of use to include security applications," says Beigang. The engineers at Hübner were among the first to recognize the potential of the Fraunhofer researchers' work. The company's traditional line of business is manufacturing key components for the transportation industry (e.g. rail vehicles, buses, airport technology, automotive). A new division for public security was added in 2006, when the company first started to look for cooperation partners. The mail scanner project was launched four years later, based on previous joint development projects. In the meantime, the company has brought its T-COGNITION solution onto the market.

This is how the mail scanner works. Suspicious envelopes and packages are fed into the scanner on a retractable tray. They are then exposed to terahertz waves which are absorbed at different frequencies within the spectral range depending on the substance they travel through (characteristic absorption properties). Detectors at the output of the scanner record the transmitted wavelengths. "Within a few seconds, T-COGNITION produces a spectroscopic fingerprint that allows the detected hazardous material to be compared with database samples and definitively identified," says Thorsten Sprenger.

The system triggers an alarm if the consignment contains explosives or illicit drugs.The system is capable of examining the content of postal items up to C4 format with a thickness of up to two centimeters. Sprenger says: "It is the ideal mailroom solution for prisons, customs offices, government agencies, company headquarters, and embassies or consulates, because it helps to improve security and protect human lives."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. "Inspecting letters with terahertz waves." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 May 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140522074449.htm>.
Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. (2014, May 22). Inspecting letters with terahertz waves. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140522074449.htm
Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. "Inspecting letters with terahertz waves." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140522074449.htm (accessed September 23, 2014).

Share This



More Matter & Energy News

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Will Living Glue Be A Thing?

Will Living Glue Be A Thing?

Newsy (Sep. 23, 2014) — Using proteins derived from mussels, engineers at MIT have made a supersticky underwater adhesive. They're now looking to make "living glue." Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Company Copies Keys From Photos

Company Copies Keys From Photos

Newsy (Sep. 22, 2014) — A new company allows customers to make copies of keys by simply uploading a couple of photos. But could it also be great for thieves? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Hyped-Up Big Bang Discovery Has A Dust Problem

The Hyped-Up Big Bang Discovery Has A Dust Problem

Newsy (Sep. 22, 2014) — An analysis of new satellite data casts serious doubt on a previous study about the Big Bang that was once hailed as revolutionary. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Rockefeller Oil Heirs Switching To Clean Energy

Rockefeller Oil Heirs Switching To Clean Energy

Newsy (Sep. 22, 2014) — The Rockefellers — heirs to an oil fortune that made the family name a symbol of American wealth — are switching from fossil fuels to clean energy. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins