ALERT Doctoral Student Wins Lemelson-MIT Rensselear Student Prize

Benjamin Clough, an ALERT student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has demonstrated a promising technique that uses sound waves to boost the distance from which researchers can use terahertz technology to remotely detect hidden explosives, chemicals, and other dangerous materials. Terahertz radiation signatures effectively reveal the chemical composition of objects, making them ideal for detecting dangerous explosives and chemicals. Finding a way to extend their reach overcomes a major barrier to using them for remote detection.

In recognition of this work, he received the 2011 Lemelson-MIT Rensselaer Student Prize, one of four Lemelson-MIT Student Prize winners nationwide. Dr. Clough will graduate in 2012 and has already accepted a position with JIEDDO. Clough’s patent-pending solution to this problem is a new method for using sound waves to remotely “listen” to terahertz signals from a distance. So far, Clough has successfully demonstrated the ability to use acoustics to identify the terahertz fingerprints from several meters away. He has separately demonstrated plasma acoustic detection from 11 meters, limited only by available lab space. Along with the increased distance from the potentially hazardous material, an additional advantage is that his system does not require a direct line of sight to collect signals, as the microphone can still capture the audio information. Potential applications of Clough’s invention, which circumvents the fundamental limitations of remote terahertz spectroscopy, include environmental monitoring of atmospheric conditions, monitoring smokestack emissions, inspecting suspicious packages, or even detecting land mines – all from a safe distance.

Benjamin Cloughin in the lab

Benjamin, an ALERT Ph.D. student at RPI won the prize based on his technique of using sound waves to boost the distance at which THz waves can be used for detection of hidden explosives and other threats.

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