The problem with science awards is that you only really hear about the big discoveries. No one wants to celebrate basic research—the nitty-gritty explorations into atoms and cells that make advances like space flight possible—because it can seem unexciting. Mona Jarrahi, associate professor in charge of the University of California, Los Angeles’ Terahertz Electronics Laboratory, could have this problem, because what she does is integrate semiconducting nanostructures into lasers to convert light into terahertz waves, then converts those waves into an electrical—see?
But the thing is, the Department of Defense, President Obama, and the Nobel Prize Committee are all interested in Jarrahi’s “basic research,” because essentially what she has done is increase the sensitivity of terahertz scanners—those body scanners you get to pose in every time you go to the airport— by a factor of five. Much like X-rays, terahertz scanners can see through clothes and inside organs, but because they employ a longer wavelength, they don’t damage DNA and can detect unique chemical signatures from substances like water. This makes terahertz waves ideal for locating both hidden explosives and cancer tumors.
With the increase in power that comes from Jarrahi’s work, she’s been able to build scanners as small as a deck of cards. One day, she hopes, they’ll replace mammography machines, and doctors will be able to spot breast cancer with an iPhone. Currently, she is partnering with the Med- Star Washington Burn Center to see if her tiny scanner can determine the depth of injury in burn victims. – Source Popular Mechanics