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Terahertz waves, which until now have barely found their way out of the laboratory, could soon be in use as a versatile tool. Researchers have mobilized the transmitting and receiving devices so that they can be used anywhere with ease.
Everybody knows microwaves – but what are terahertz waves? These higher-frequency waves are a real jack-of-all-trades. They can help to detect explosives or drugs without having to open a suitcase or search through items of clothing. They can reveal which substances are flowing through plastic tubes. Doctors even hope that these waves will enable them to identify skin cancer without having to perform a biopsy. In the electromagnetic spectrum, terahertz waves are to be found between infrared radiation and microwaves.
They can penetrate wood, ceramics, paper, plastic or fabrics and are not harmful to humans. On the other hand, they cannot pass through metal. This makes them a universal tool: They change when passing through gases, solid materials or liquids. Each substance leaves its specific fingerprint, be it explosives or water, heroin or blood.