Technology 3 min read

New Chip for Low-Cost Hand-held Microwave Imager Developed

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Researchers have developed a new chip that could lead to the creation of a low-cost hand-held microwave imager (MWI). Since microwave travels through specific opaque objects, a portable imager would be useful in seeing through human body tissues.

Microwave imaging is a low-power, cheap, and non-ionizing imaging modality.

Unlike Xrays, MWI is non-ionizing, and consequently, not harmful to the human cell. That makes MWIs perfect for diagnosing and treating breast cancer tissue.

As a result, researchers have been working on several microwave-based imaging devices. A new chip could help the effort to develop a low-cost, hand-held version.

In a recent paper published in Optica, researchers described how they developed a microwave imager chip using a standard semiconductor fabrication process. The chip, which contains over 1,000 photonic components, measures just over two millimeters on each side.

In other words, it’s about half the width of a pencil eraser.

In a statement, research team leader from the University of Pennsylvania, Firooz Aflatouni said:

“Today’s practical microwave imagers are bench-top systems that are bulky and expensive. Our new near-field imager uses optical, rather than electronic, devices to process the microwave signal. This enabled us to make a chip-based imager similar to the optical camera chips in many smartphones.”

Using Optical Processing to Create Microwave Images

Optical cameras require a lens to form an image on the camera’s image sensor. The new imager works similarly, emulating a microwave lens.

Using four antennas, the near-field imager receives microwave signals that are reflected from an object. The microwave signals are encoded into an optical signal, which is then optically processed into an image.

As said earlier, the imager consists of over 1,000 photonic components including waveguides, photodiodes, directional couplers, and ring modulators. But, the most essential of these components may be the optical delay element network for signal processing.

That’s because the over 280 delay cells are ten times smaller and more efficient than equivalent electronics. As a result, they produce a miniature but efficient system.

They can also operate with significantly shorter microwave pulses, which produces higher imaging resolution,” said Farshid Ashtiani, a graduate student in Aflatouni’s group and co-author on the paper.

The researchers imaged objects with metallic surfaces to demonstrate how the new chip worked. This includes metallic squares of up to 24 centimeters on each side and the UPenn logo.

Benefits of a Low-Cost Hand-Held Microwave Imager

A hand-held near-field microwave imager has several medical applications, which include producing high-resolution brain images. It could also help monitor heart motion as well as breathing.

Other potential applications of a miniature microwave imager include low power, high-speed communication links, and tracking objects in radar systems.

Read More: Using Magnetic Particle Imaging to Monitor Chemotherapy Delivery

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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