back to article Want to see through walls? Electroboffins build tiny chip in the lab that vibrates at just the right frequency to do it

Scientists have crafted a tiny flexible electrical device capable of generating terahertz waves, which could pave the way for new imaging techniques and high-speed communications. Terahertz non-ionizing radiation lies in the electromagnetic spectrum where microwaves and infrared meet. These so-called T-waves, ranging from 0.3 …

  1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Kapton tape is wonderful stuff

    And it's a good job it's sticky, too, because these tiny things are going to be a devil of a job to solder!

  2. nematoad Silver badge



    Dear God, would not "production" have been the better word to use?

    Now I know that the US and Britain are "two nations divided by a common language" but use of portmanteau words like this should really be a criminal offence.

    1. Paul Kinsler

      Re: "productization"

      Indeed, "productization" is an inexcusably hideous construction. But I think it is intended to mean "implemented and put to use in a product" or "turned from this into a saleable product", or this like, so not quite the same as a bare "production", which does not necessarily have the same implications.

      Still, several words to cover the intended meaning would have been better than the single jargonoid one used here.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "jargonoid"

        I do not like this ugly, negative, "jargonoid" neologism of yours. I suggest the more elegant and positive "jargolicious" instead :-)

        1. Chris G Silver badge

          Re: "jargonoid"

          It would appear that jargolicious is derived from the words jargon and delicious, whereas, if the intention is to show something that is derived soley from the word jargon it should be jargonicious.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "productization"

        'Commercialization' was already available on the shelf...

        1. Clunking Fist Bronze badge

          Re: "productization"

          Surely it is available OFF the shelf? I apologise for calling you Shirley.

      4. Clunking Fist Bronze badge

        Re: "productization"

        Yes, I too hate this bastardization of the English language.

    2. onemark03


      I think the author was looking for a word that means making a product of this capability.

      Admittedly, a phrase should have been chosen.

    3. Dr_N Silver badge

      Re: Ugh!

      Agreed productization is clearly an insult to the English language.

      It should be productisation.

      1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

        Re: Ugh!


        ( Mines the one with the 2021 OED in the pocket )

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Ugh!

          I'd like to see you put my second edition OED in your pocket ...

      2. jake Silver badge

        Re: Ugh!

        My OED says "ize" is the proper construct in British English. What are you, French? Damn your ise!

    4. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Ugh!

      I make no apology - we're here to twist and torture the English language as we see fit.

      Exhibit A: Every headline.


    5. jake Silver badge

      Re: Ugh!

      "use of portmanteau words like this should really be a criminal offence."

      And presumably attempting to mainstream a French portmanteau into the English Language should be a hanging offense?

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: Ugh!

        French portmanteau into the English Language

        Nah. It's our right as a superior language to chase, catch and absorb any vocabulary that we choose. After all, we've been doing it for almost a thousand years..

  3. John Jennings Bronze badge

    At last - the X-ray specs

    from the back of mad magazine are in my future!

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: At last - the X-ray specs

      A sad young fellow named Jones

      Sat and grumbled and griped and then moaned

      For he bought x-ray specses

      To look through girls' dresses

      And all he could see was their bones...

      1. Jamie Jones Silver badge

        Re: At last - the X-ray specs

        Aye, and they refused to give me a refund!

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: At last - the X-ray specs

      from the back of mad magazine are in my future!

      But not for us mere citizens. I'm sure they will be only available to those watching us to make sure we follow the party line.

      Icon... appropriate.

    3. jake Silver badge

      Re: At last - the X-ray specs

      Except the very early issues (pre 1957), Mad Magazine didn't run ads, with the exception of what we would now call "merch" ... mugs, hats, tshirts, games and the like based on the magazine itself. This was so they could satirize anybody and anything without threats of reprisal.

      They did satirize the "standard" comic book adverts like xray specs, two-kid minisubs, sea monkeys, the Charles Atlas workout and etc. in various issues over the years.

    4. jake Silver badge

      Re: At last - the X-ray specs

      As a side-note, the so-called "xray specs" were basically bits of feather that diffracted light, producing a couple of overlapping images. The overlapping areas supposedly appeared bone-like.

  4. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Kapton tape, sapphire substrate, gold or tungsten and titanium

    I don't know what they're going to make, but I'm sure it won't come cheap.

    1. aks Bronze badge

      Re: Kapton tape, sapphire substrate, gold or tungsten and titanium

      everything brand new will be expensive. as this technique expands, a million possible uses will emerge. lasers were very slow to be adopted for real-world use but now they're everywhere.

      1. Clunking Fist Bronze badge

        Re: Kapton tape, sapphire substrate, gold or tungsten and titanium

        "but now they're everywhere."

        Really? I ordered some sharks several year ago, still not delivered.

    2. jake Silver badge

      Re: Kapton tape, sapphire substrate, gold or tungsten and titanium

      In the small quantities used per item, material costs should be quite low.

  5. Christoph Silver badge

    Aren't you glad that the police (and many others) will now be able to spy on you through the walls of your house?

    Though this would also be extremely useful if you can run WiFi over it. Vastly higher data rate, and no problem with walls blocking the signal.

    1. Enger

      The exterior walls of many homes contain foil-backed fiberglass insulation. Perhaps the metal foil will shield the home somewhat? (Many low-E windows also contain a membrane which may attenuate certain wavelengths?) It would be interesting to hear some legitimate test results about this.

      1. steelpillow Silver badge

        Legit expert opinion: foil will stop modest emission levels cold. Power levels high enough to get through would cook most else in their path.

        1. HildyJ Silver badge

          When has potential harm to occupants every stopped (or even occurred to) the police?

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        "The exterior walls of many homes contain foil-backed fiberglass insulation."

        Most new INTERIOR insulation (particularly gypsum panels) are foil backed too.

        it's going to to be interesting to see if THz can see through that. I had to put APs in every office of a new building as 5GHz wouldn't even penetrate the walls and 2GHz was only getting between the offices by means of the windows in the doors into the hallway (the doors themselves were foil lined too)

        1. jake Silver badge

          "Most new INTERIOR insulation (particularly gypsum panels) are foil backed too."

          Gypsum panels[0] aren't exactly what I would call "insulation", with an R value of 0.83 per inch. The foil backing is a vapo(u)r barrier.

          [0] Sheetrock, drywall, plasterboard et ali, depending on jurisdiction.

  6. Schultz Silver badge

    Oooh the hype!

    Let me first clarify the science behind this story:

    The researchers take an ordinary, boring high-frequency source (they show data using a 10 MHz source) and send it through their "switch". Each time the "boring source" output exceeds a threshold voltage, their switch turns on very fast, leading to a sharp (picosecond) voltage rise at the output. When the boring source output goes low, the switch output falls again -- although slowly.

    When you take that fast rising pulse and send it through a suitable circuit, you can get some very short pulse corresponding to the derivative of the pulse rise. So they can get a very short THz frequency pulse (picosecond duration). Then they have to wait for their boring source to go low and go up to the threshold voltage again before they can get another pulse (100 ns wait time for the 10 MHz boring source).

    The great "power" of the source (power = energy / time) is, of course, calculated for the picosecond duration. But when you account for the long wait between the pulses, you'll notice that the average power is not impressive. It's a nanoscale device, so don't get overexcited!

    The yadayada on the Great Power of Microwaves is factually correct, but falls into the category of the famous exam answer: "The questions about worms is interesting, because worms have similar shape and mobility to elephant trunks and I can tell you all about elephants ..." Concerning wireless communication, I don't see how a fast switch with very long reset time will help. Maybe some more magic to come...

    1. ThatOne Silver badge

      Re: Oooh the hype!

      > Concerning wireless communication, I don't see how a fast switch with very long reset time will help.

      Leave that to marketing...

      "Tera" means "humongous" to the great unwashed, so anything "Tera" must be vastly harder, better, faster, stronger than "normal" stuff. Never forget the car doesn't have to be fast, it just has to look fast.

      1. YetAnotherLocksmith

        Re: Oooh the hype!

        The ¼ pounder won versus the ⅓ pounder, because apparently Americans thought that 4 was, here, bigger than 3.

    2. Francis Boyle Silver badge


      relatively high power for a very short time is exactly what you want. Inertial confinement is the only one that comes readily to mind but I'm sure there are many others including ones not even imagined yet.

      1. Mike 16 Silver badge

        Re: Sometimes

        So, basically a very small Spark-gap transmitter?

        (Yes, I have been a plasma donor via that path)

      2. StargateSg7 Bronze badge

        Re: Sometimes

        You can also use pulsed Terahertz radiation to create advanced aerospace propulsion systems (i.e. direct microwave jetting) OR as a means to create a virtualized waveguide system using the terahertz radiation AS the virtual waveguide and cavity resonator walls for other VERY HIGH AMPLITUDE pulsed or continuous EM waveforms used o facilitate more exotic forms of propulsion.

        Ergo, you get that fancy triangular spacecraft we have sitting nicely in our Hangar at YVR which we can use to buzz over-top of and then moon the ISS or "The Green Lady" or "The Pancake Deltoid" with !!! (i.e. we have done that!)


    3. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Oooh the hype!

      Yeah, yeah, we expect readers are smart enough to recognize a science experiment when they see one - it does say in the headline it's lab work, and later on, it's not a commercial product.

      I've put a bit at the bottom stressing this, and the nanoscale-ness. It's just cool science at the moment.


  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh great

    The ability to see through walls built into a smartphone will not be good for anyone's privacy.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Oh great

      Don't worry, your neighbour won't see what costumes you wear in the bedroom.

      It can't see clothing.

  8. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    This can only mean

    6G cellular service is here!

  9. Unicornpiss Silver badge


    Cool, in a few years we can start making tricorders..

  10. Celeste Reinard

    The Cusp

    “High-frequency, high-power and nanoscale aren’t terms you’d normally hear in the same sentence,” he added.

    O dear, may I contradict you? But that sounds rather like the description of the Current US President its brain, or else that other nasty that is not to be sneezed upon that is currently doing the rounds. ... The guy should read a newspaper or something. Be shown the tv.

    ... Okay, it's not really on topic, but it's true!

  11. fredj

    Be careful with this kit. I worked on a contract quite some years ago using terra waves for a product inspection control function. I sat in a room with two instruments putting out high power terra waves. After two months my brain was wrecked. It took almost six months to get back to normal function. It wasn't fun at all but at the time I did not notice the effect because my mental acuity became so low.

    In general I do have problems with EM and have learned how to avoid or reduce their intensity to my personal tolerance levels. Unfortunately these waves, at least on the system that I worked on, needed a lot of power for useful penetration and that was for medical pill's physical QC.

    Please do not delete this post. It is real information.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      "I sat in a room with two instruments putting out high power terra waves. "

      And the H&S safety assessment for doing this was.....?

      There are already well-documented bloody good reasons for being careful around EHF+ frequencies, especially where something even notionally low powered can induce local effects well in excess of safety limits in a small area

      For that matter it's probably not a good idea to hang around in the vicinity of very high strength vibrating magnetic fields as they may fuzz your thinking - (lookup Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation)

    2. YetAnotherLocksmith

      Where you sat in the lab would've affected focus, then?

  12. Ugotta B. Kiddingme Silver badge

    so IF this interesting science pans out...

    AND becomes commercially viable for various products, we could in theory have medical diagnostic tools to peek at our insides without all that pesky ionizing radiation? Spiffy!

  13. JCitizen Bronze badge
    Black Helicopters

    One negative consequence..

    I can think of - is this could enhance the attacks nation state bad actors are using against diplomatic persons and their aids; like those we've seen in the news ; acquiring mysterious afflictions of bad health and resigning their positions stating they left because of these mysterious maladies caused by such attacks. The causes proposed by the news media included some kind of microwave radiation, or radar - Just a thought!

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