Could New Technology Let You Read Books Without Opening Them?

terahertz-radiationResearchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have recently determined that it is possible to read a book without opening it. At least, it is possible if you use something called terahertz radiation.

Terahertz radiation is a band of electromagnetic radiation which falls between microwaves and infrared light. This type of radiation can actually identify letters on printed papers up to nine sheets thick.

If this sounds familiar then you may be comforted to know that this is very similar to the way X-ray techology, ultrasound, or other types of radiation work: by penetrating the surface of an object to see what is underneath. The researchers say that terahertz radiation is superior, though, because it can, for one, differentiate between blank paper and black ink—something that X-rays cannot do. Perhaps more importantly, though, terahertz radiation can penetrate far deeper into an object and still produce high-resolution images better than ultrasound.

Study co-author Barmak Heshmat explains, “The system we used was not necessarily a top-of-the-line system — if the system was improved further, we’d have a chance of reading even deeper.”

One application, he explains, could involve the reading of ancient and fragile texts. It is often difficult to extract this information from these tomes because opening them could damage the material. The technology can even pierce through air pockets 20 micrometers deep between the pages of any book.

The MIT electrical engineer goes on to say, “The Metropolitan Museum [of Art] in New York showed a lot of interest in this, because they want to, for example, look into some antique books that they don’t even want to touch.”

He also notes that this technology could be useful—though in a higher capacity, some day—in “future scanners that can scan through large amounts of documents without having to mechanically separate the pages, which could be useful for libraries, banks and others.”

He speculates that intelligence operatives may be able to use this technology to look at a message within an envelop or to find ink that may not be visible under normal light frequencies. Alternately, other industries could use this for analyzing materials organized in thin layers—like paint or the coatings on machine parts—in the future.

Indeed, the possibilities may be endless.
The results of this study have been detailed in the online journal Nature Communications, published on Sept 9