The fictional technology in Star Trek has been rightfully used as the benchmark to which all to which modern-day technological advances should aspire. Automatic garage door openers are an impressive accomplishment, but in a science-fiction world of warp speed drivers and instantaneous teleportation, they are really nothing to brag about. The technology of our time may not allow for sci-fi applications like phasers (tasers don’t count!), but the increasing amount of technology squeezed into a handheld gadget is fast approaching near-Trekkian levels.
One example of this is seen in the recent advances in Terahertz wave (or T-ray) imaging, which is currently used in an increasing number of airport scanners. Because a T-ray has less photon energy than an X-ray, they pose a smaller risk to tissue and cell structure and are thus more attractive as an imaging option. Traditionally, T-rays required an immense amount of energy to create in controlled temperature environments, but researchers at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) in Singapore, and Imperial College London have published a groundbreaking advancement which miniaturizes the size of a T-ray generator through use of a nano-antennae: a semi-conductor wafer and a pair of metal strips separated by 100-nanometer gap.
This design breakthrough is perhaps the first step to creating a fully functioning a Tricorder-like medical scanner allowing doctors to to scan a patient for tumors, internal bleeding, many other sorts of medical maladies. Although still in its early stages, the research from A*STAR and the ICL comes on the heels of the $10 million Tricorder X-Prize, announced at CES in Las Vegas, which will be given to the team that designs a practical, workable Tricorder scanner. In order to win, a prototype must weigh less than five pounds and be able to detect a set of at least 15 diseases, so A*STAR and ICL might have a bit of work ahead of them.
Whether the T-ray nano-antennae will win the X-Prize winning design remains to be seen but no matter what the outcome of the contest is, the real winners are those of us who are waiting on our phasers.