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Radical project targets THz imaging

17 Jun 2002

A European project called Star Tiger looks to revolutionize traditional research and development methods.

The European Space Agency (ESA) and the UK's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) have teamed up to organize a radical research project. For four months, the two organizations are giving 10 experts full access to RAL's facilities, while removing all administrative distractions.

The aim is to build the world's first video-rate terahertz imaging instrument.

Called Star Tiger, which stands for "Space Technology Advancements by Resourceful, Targeted and Innovative Groups of Experts and Researchers", the project will begin on 3 June this year.

The organizers are looking for 10 researchers, from graduate level upwards, to participate in Star Tiger, and are specifically looking for at least one person from the optics community.

RAL organizer Chris Mann told Optics.org: "We would really love to have somebody from the optics community. The ideal candidate would have experience in CCD imaging technology, optical design and photonic bandap materials."

Mann adds that the organizers are also targeting researchers with experience in setting up optical experiments, lithography and MEMS fabrication.

He says that the idea for Star Tiger originated after he and PhD student Ramon Gonzalo spent four weeks at RAL focused purely on making a photonic material with a 500 GHz bandgap.

"We marvelled at what we had achieved in such a short time. We thought about making an imaging array next, but even RAL would not have sufficient depth of expertise to tackle this alone. That was when we had the idea of bringing everybody with the necessary expertise to one central hub," said Mann.

He admits that he thought this plan would never actually happen, but, via ESA researcher Peter de Maagt, the idea made its way up the ESA chain of command before Niels Jensen, its head of technology programmes department, gave it the go-ahead.

De Maagt is now the ESA project manager for Star Tiger. If the project succeeds in building the world's first terahertz imager operating in these frequencies, initial applications would include astronomy, atmospheric physics, and environmental monitoring.

Non-space applications include industrial process control and skin-cancer detection. In the long term, a cheap imager based on terahertz technology would also be able to "see" through fog, with obvoius benefits for pilots and drivers.

"We are quite confident that the Star Tiger concept will demonstrate a new method of doing R&D. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to set the standard," said Mann.

Do you want to work on Star Tiger? Participants from any of the ESA member states are eligible. To apply, visit www.startiger.org.

Michael Hatcher is technology editor of Opto & Laser Europe magazine.

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