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Posted: 11:59 AM- Faster high-speed, close-range wireless communication may result from University of Utah researchers' exploration of ways to harness the final unused stretch of the electromagnetic spectrum, according to an article in this week's edition of the journal Nature.

Almost all parts of the spectrum, which includes visible light, are being used today to operate technological devices such as as X-ray machines and cell phones. A slice known as terahertz radiation can be manipulated for faster communication and also to help detect biological weapons, said Ajay Nahata, a U. researcher in electrical and computer engineering.

"It is not only underutilized," he said of terahertz radiation, which is part of far-infrared light, "it is largely unused."

The challenge has been finding ways to manipulate specific wavelengths of the radiation, Nahata said.

This radiation is too high in frequency for use in conventional electronics, but too low in frequency to work with optical detectors, he said.

These terahertz wavelengths are too short to be detected using devices involved with radio and TV signals, but they are too long for equipment that picks up shorter wave lengths,.

"It's a teenager," said U. physicist Z. Valy Vardeny, likening terahertz wavelengths to someone caught between childhood and adulthood. "Those are really tough situations."

The researchers' project involved small metal grates with a series of openings. Depending on the angle of the grate compared with the radiation source, only a certain band of wavelength was allowed through the openings, he said.

These grates, which must be rotated, provide a crude way of tuning the wavelengths. Nahata said future devices would have more sophisticated ways of tuning.

"That opens up the possibility for a whole range of devices," Nahata said.

Researchers can focus on specific frequencies that can be used to transmit data in computers or between devices.

Vardeny said this technology could be useful for a time when computer chips shrink to the size of individual molecules. This radiation may be a way to transmit information between the tiny chips.

In addition to communication, the technology could also be used for security purposes.

Nahata said all objects emit terahertz radiation. With this in mind, the technology could be employed to detect biological weapons, such as anthrax, which gives off a specific fingerprint of this terahertz radiation.

Some day, systems could scan mail for biological weapons or even notice potentially hazardous agents floating in the air, he said.

While researchers could have prototype devices that use this radiation within a year, it could be a decade before such technology reaches the marketplace, Nahata said.

The U.S. Army Research Office provided a three-year grant of $250,000 for the project, while the U. kicked in $100,000.