Researchers at the University of Manchester believe that the electrical properties of graphene mean that the material could be used to open up a previously under-explored area of technology – terahertz lasers.
According to a team of scientists from the university, graphene, the wonder material, could have a number of new applications. They even believe that graphene could have a part to pay in the delivery of terabyte internet speeds.
Terahertz technology exists on the electromagnetic spectrum between microwave and infrared frequencies.
The waves are similar to X-rays in that they cannot be seen, but they are also less invasive and cause less damage than other types of electromagnetic radiation.
Possible uses include more sensitive scanners to pick up minute defects in manufactured drugs, and more accurate body scanners at airports that are also safer for more frequent use.
So far, terahertz technology has been largely ignored by industry because of high costs and difficulties associated with controlling it. Now though, University of Manchester researchers believe that graphene could revolutionise the technology.
The University of Manchester has been the home of graphene since Sir Andre Geim and Sir Kostya Novoselov first isolated the material in Manchester in 2004.
Working alongside Dr Subhashish Chakraborty, Sir Novoselov has now led a team of researchers to report in the journal Science, that graphene could be used to control the frequency of terahertz lasers.
Dr Chakraborty said: “Terahertz technologies have been somewhat ignored by industry, partly due to the complexity of creating high-power tunable devices, as lots of different materials were necessary.
“Graphene can now fill in the gaps of this technology by creating a platform to electronically control devices and flexibly engineer device output”.
Being able to manipulate terahertz frequencies could help produce better scanners in the pharmaceutical, security and agricultural industries.
Sir Kostya said: “Current terahertz devices do not allow for tuneable properties, a new device would have to be made each time requirements changed, making them unattractive on an industrial scale.
“Graphene however, can allow for terahertz devices to be switched on and off, as well as altering their state.”
By opening up these tuneable properties, graphene could also potentially be used to increase internet bandwidth up to, and beyond one terabyte per second. With one terabyte equal to 1000000 megabytes, this would represent a massive improvement on current internet speeds.