So-called T-rays, representing light waves that are too long for human eyes to comprehend, could potentially assist airport security enforcements find chemical or biological weapons weapons.

They might let doctors image body tissues with less damage to healthy areas. And they could give astronomers new tools to study planets in other solar systems. Those are just a few possible applications.

But because terahertz frequencies fall between the capabilities of the specialized tools presently used to detect light, engineers have yet to efficiently harness them. The U-M researchers demonstrated a unique terahertz detector and imaging system that could bridge this terahertz gap.

We convert the T-ray light into sound,” said Jay Guo, U-M professor of electrical engineering and computer science, mechanical engineering, and macromolecular science and engineering. “Our detector is sensitive, compact and works at room temperature, and we’ve made it using an unconventional approach.”

The sound the detector makes is too high for human ears to hear.