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UD professor's technology could be used for national security

Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media
Dennis Prather stands next to the millimeter wave imager

A University of Delaware professor is developing an imaging system for manufacture for the Department of Defense. Its applications range from school security to aircraft navigation.


University of Delaware engineering professor and president of Phase Sensitive Innovations Dennis Prather has been working on the components of his electromagnetic wave imaging system since the 1990s.

“Your cell phone goes off in your pocket but I can't see it. It goes off in your pocket because it goes through you clothes. So if I can have an imaging system that can see those kinds of waves then I can actually see through things,” said Prather.

Prather’s imager uses millimeter waves, which are higher in frequency than radio waves but lower than infrared. He says he’s not aware of anyone else developing imaging technology in this range.

“You look lower, there’s lots of technologies— your radios, microwave ovens, cell phones, all those kind of things. You look higher, there’s all kinds of technologies— x-rays, visible cameras, cell phone cameras, even a little lower, infrared cameras,” said Prather. ”You go lower still, there’s nothing. There’s nothing at all for terahertz or millimeter waves it’s like an empty space.”


Prather says his imager can “see” through a variety of materials. “If I can penetrate boxes, if I can penetrate plywood, canvas, smoke, fog, blowing dust or sand, then I have an imaging system that’s quite robust for all different environmental conditions."


He adds it can render images of concealed objects up to 100s of meters away— much farther than traditional metal detectors.


According to simulations, the system can help a helicopter land in a dust storm. Prather says it can find hidden weapons in a crowd or screen people as they enter a building without their knowledge.

Prather’s team is working to adapt the imager for manufacture under a roughly $15 million Department of Defense contract. They will also work to develop the next generations of their millimeter wave and polarity rotation imagers through the spring and summer.

Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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