Powerful new radiator could revolutionise medical diagnostics

10 Feb 2017

From left: UCI professor of electrical engineering and computer science, Payam Heydari, with researcher Peyman Nazari. Image: Steve Zylius/UCI

A new device developed in the US is being billed as a major medtech breakthrough, as millimetre-wave signals point to a future of speedy recoveries.

What tiny little chip can combine power from multiple amplifiers, modulate the signal to a desired frequency and radiate the information to be read elsewhere?

Enter a new ‘radiator’, a potential medtech game-changer developed by Payam Heydari and his team at UC Irvine (UCI).

The silicon microchip-based component emits millimetre-wave signals in the G band (110 to 300GHz). These can penetrate solid surfaces, read what’s on the other side and provide good resolution, perhaps allowing for a handheld scanner that can detect problems beneath the skin.

The team claim it has the highest power and efficiency ever recorded in such a radiating element, while exhibiting the lowest noise.

“We’re very excited about the successful design of this radiator because it represents a complete breakthrough,” said Heydari. “We’re offering an entirely new kind of physics, a new kind of device really. Our power and efficiency is an order of magnitude greater than other designs.”

Heydari has his eyes on the medical profession, suggesting this radiator could form a key part of tomorrow’s diagnostic devices. For example, it could give doctors the means to differentiate tumour masses from healthy tissue in the blink of an eye.

The researchers claim this radiator chip boasts the highest power and efficiency of any device in its class. Image: Steve Zylius / UCI

The researchers claim this radiator chip boasts the highest power and efficiency of any device in its class. Image: Steve Zylius/UCI

It could also be used in genomic research, equipping scientists with an instrument that can be precisely tuned to enable the excitation, or lighting up, of individual proteins.

Other potential uses include connected devices outside of the medical profession, something that will become ever present in years to come.

“By using this millimetre-wave technology, cars all of a sudden become super-smart processing systems,” Heydari said. “Vehicles will be able to communicate with one another, and radar capabilities will be enhanced, greatly improving blind-spot detection and collision avoidance.”

UCI researchers have kicked 2017 off to a good start. Last month, they teamed up with Stanford University to build a new lithium-ion battery with a built-in fire extinguisher.

Given the explosive 2016 experienced by the likes of Samsung, with devices combusting and danger ensuing, this too could prove remarkably useful.

Publishing their findings in the journal Science Advances, the researchers were able to overcome previous challenges and place triphenyl phosphate – a known flame retardant – into the battery itself.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic