Research Takes Early Steps Toward Handheld Cancer-Scanning Device


A handheld device that could allow individuals to screen themselves for cancer is one potential outcome of ongoing research into the power of terahertz lasers.

The work comes from the lab of Richard Klemm, Ph.D.,in collaboration with the Kadowaki-Kashiwagi-Tsujimoto and Minami groups at the University of Tsukuba in Japan. They recently published the results of their exploration of crystal-powered lasers in the Japanese Journal of Applied Physics vol. 59, art. No. 105004 (2020). (

The foundation of their research is a single crystal composed of Bi2Sr2CaCu2O8+ (Bi2212). One of Klemm’s students, Ruqayyah Shouk, is working on the theoretical design of an array of such devices, which could increase the output power sufficiently for it to operate efficiently as a cancer detector.

Harnessing the power of a “supercurrent” generated by the Josephson effect, the team believes they can use a reflected wave to study tissue beneath the skin. Such a device remains years in the future, but the lab has proven the concept is viable through tests on a dried heart pea.

The 3D scan of the pea penetrated several millimeters deep to distinguish the three seeds at the bottom of the plant. That’s enough to give Klemm optimism for what’s to come.

“Scanning your body for cancers will eventually be as easy as brushing your teeth,” he said.

Next steps include enhancing the power of the device, potentially with Queen’s College in New York and Argonne National Laboratory. Production of a commercial product is easily a decade in the future, but Klemm pictures the cancer screener to something akin to a flashlight or laser pointer.






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