Email Print Share
November 26, 2019

T-Ray Laser

Researchers have created a terahertz laser using laughing gas. (Yep.) These lasers can be small, tunable, and much more efficient. They could fit in a backpack, in your vehicle for wireless communication, or they could be used for high-resolution imaging.

Credit: National Science Foundation/Karson Productions

Seeing it through.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

Someday your doctor might look at your stats and check your T-rays. Not X-rays, your T-rays. A safer kind of imaging. Or at the airport you might have your backpack scanned using T-ray vision. The 'T' stands for terahertz -- radiation whose frequencies are higher than microwaves, and lower than visible light. A research team from MIT, Harvard and the US Army has found a new, compact way to harness terahertz frequencies not only for medical imaging and security, but also wireless communication.

Scientists started experimenting with creating T-wave lasers back in the 70's, -- typically very large or only worked at one frequency. More recently, the team came up with a new mathematical theory that showed t-waves could be generated by spinning up the energy of gas molecules not in a chamber yards long, but one the size of a pen.

Funny, they found an ideal gas to use was nitrous oxide -- laughing gas -- pumped into the tiny chamber. When exposed to infrared laser light, the gas molecules spun up enough to create a terahertz laser that can be tuned to control how far the waves will travel. A feature especially useful for t-ray wireless communication.

Retro technology gets a whole new lease on -- light.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

Images and other media in the National Science Foundation Multimedia Gallery are available for use in print and electronic material by NSF employees, members of the media, university staff, teachers and the general public. All media in the gallery are intended for personal, educational and nonprofit/non-commercial use only.

Images credited to the National Science Foundation, a federal agency, are in the public domain. The images were created by employees of the United States Government as part of their official duties or prepared by contractors as "works for hire" for NSF. You may freely use NSF-credited images and, at your discretion, credit NSF with a "Courtesy: National Science Foundation" notation.

Additional information about general usage can be found in Conditions.