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TeraView THz Technology Used to Detect PETN Explosive

TeraView, the pioneer and leader in Terahertz technology for the homeland security and defense applications, has announced that its patented explosives detection technology, based on the unique properties of terahertz light, has been successfully demonstrated on PETN explosives by the US Navy.

The absorption spectrum of PETN – its so-called ‘Terahertz fingerprint’ which can be used to identify the explosive – was reported by TeraView’s customer at the Naval Surface Warfare Command in Maryland in the US, and published recently in a leading scientific journal.[1] 

The hidden material found over the weekend on planes in the United Kingdom and Dubai also used PETN – a powerful explosive favoured by terrorists in many recent attacks. PETN, short for pentaerythritol trinitrate, is a widely available chemical explosive that has a long history of terrorist use.

  • The suspect in the failed Christmas Day 2009 airliner bombing attempt used PETN explosive concealed in his underwear.
  • The Saudi government said PETN was used in an assassination attempt on the country’s counterterrorism operations chief in August, 2009.
  • PETN was used by Richard Reid, the convicted “shoe bomber,” in 2001.

Dr Don Arnone, Chief Executive Officer of TeraView also commented: ‘We are delighted that our collaborators in the US government and other international organisations continue to demonstrate the critical role that Terahertz can play toward filling the gap in their explosives detection capabilities. TeraView will continue to closely support their efforts and move our technology into the market place, where we strongly believe that it can contribute to the safety of the public.’

How THz Explosives Detection Works

TeraView’s technology can safely, non invasively and quickly image through different types of clothing and other concealment and confusion materials. It has the capacity to detect and identify hidden explosive materials in an automated fashion without operator interpretation. The technology works by passing Terahertz light, which lies between radio and light waves in the electromagnetic spectrum, through an explosive material. Explosive materials absorb this light strongly at certain Terahertz frequencies but not at others, and this ‘Terahertz fingerprint’ can be used to identify an explosive, and distinguish it from clothing or other inert materials. Since clothing is transparent at Terahertz frequencies, the Terahertz light can pass through several layers, including common garments and shoes. TeraView’s fundamental and powerful patent encompasses these basic properties.

TeraView technology used to detect PETN explosive

Terahertz has major advantages over other technologies; it is sensitive to the presence of explosives, which is a major improvement over the standard ‘metal-only’ detectors currently deployed.  Unlike X-Rays, Terahertz does not use ionizing radiation and is safe. The ability to use software to automatically recognize Terahertz fingerprints also eliminates the need for operator interpretation of complex images as well as the significant privacy concerns that have plagued both millimeter wave and X-Ray technologies. These technologies also reveal human anatomy and have been criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups; the US House of Representative recently voted 310-118 to prohibit the use of such whole body imaging for primary security screening. Terahertz overcomes all of these limitations.

Millimetre wave technology uses microwave frequencies and is often mislabeled as Terahertz. In addition to privacy concerns, it also lacks the ability to detect and utilise Terahertz fingerprints to unambiguously identify explosives and automate this detection.

TeraView’s technology is already being tested in various areas of homeland security. The company has a collaborative agreement with the Goodrich Corporation, who manufacture Terahertz systems to detect airborne chemical warfare agents and toxic industrial chemicals, which is being developed with support from the US Department of Homeland Security. Potential applications include deployment in government buildings, transportation and other public facilities and on the battlefield.

transportation security screening

TeraView has also developed the world’s first stand off explosives detection system for laboratory evaluation. This has been supplied to a range of security institutions including the US Navy. TeraView has also produced a portable Terahertz explosive detection prototype which consisted of a hand held probe capable of imaging and identifying objects hidden below clothing.

About TeraView

TeraView is the world’s first company devoted to the application of Terahertz light for imaging and spectroscopy. TeraView’s proprietary platform uses the Terahertz spectrum between light and radio waves and offers the advantage of being non-invasive and non-destructive. Past studies have demonstrated how Terahertz uniquely and non invasively provides 3 dimensional structural and chemical information in a diverse range of applications, including weapons/explosives hidden below clothing, the contents of tablets and capsules in the pharmaceutical industry, and other objects normally invisible to conventional detection techniques. Other markets for the technology exist in medical imaging of cancer and industrial inspection which are explored via commercial partners. Headquartered in Cambridge, UK, TeraView was spun-out of the Toshiba Cambridge Research Laboratory in April 2001. Sales and support are available throughout Europe, North America and the Far East either directly or through a network of distributors.

[1] Proceedings of the SPIE, Volume 7311 (2009).