Tunable carbon nanotubes enable flexible, wearable terahertz imagers

July 03, 2018 // By Jean-Pierre Joosting
Researchers at Tokyo Institute of Technology have developed flexible terahertz imagers based on chemically "tunable" carbon nanotube materials – expanding the scope of terahertz applications to include wrap-around, wearable technologies as well as large-area photonic devices.

Due to their excellent conductivity and unique physical properties, carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are ideal for next-generation electronic devices. One of the most promising developments is their application in THz devices. Increasingly, THz imagers are emerging as a safe and viable alternative to conventional imaging systems across a wide range of applications, from airport security, food inspection and art authentication to medical and environmental sensing technologies.

The demand for THz detectors that can deliver real-time imaging for a broad range of industrial applications has spurred research into low-cost, flexible THz imaging systems. Yukio Kawano of the Laboratory for Future Interdisciplinary Research of Science and Technology, Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech), is a world-renowned expert in this field.

Kawano and his team have been investigating THz detection performance for various types of CNT materials – leading to the development of flexible THz imagers for CNT films that can be fine-tuned to maximize THz detector performance. Publishing their findings in ACS Applied Nano Materials, the THz imagers are based on chemically adjustable semiconducting CNT films.

By making use of a technology known as ionic liquid gating [1], the researchers demonstrated that they could obtain a high degree of control over key factors related to THz detector performance for a CNT film with a thickness of 30 micrometers. This level of thickness was important to ensure that the imagers would maintain their free-standing shape and flexibility, as shown in Figure 1.


(a) Resting on a fingertip, the CNT THz imager can easily wrap around curved surfaces. (b) Just by inserting and rotating a flexible THz imager attached to the fingertip, damage to a pipe was clearly detected. Image courtesy of ACS Applied Nano Materials.


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