Terahertz technology assists Canadian forestry industry

Researchers at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC; Prince George, BC, Canada; www.unbc.ca) are using terahertz technology to create imaging devices that provide forest operations with the ability to see inside wood and determine the fiber quality of logs and processed wood products.

Researchers at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC; Prince George, BC, Canada; www.unbc.ca) are using terahertz technology to create imaging devices that provide forest operations with the ability to see inside wood and determine the fiber quality of logs and processed wood products. The goal is to maximize the value of each tree.

Physics professor Matt Reid and his fellow researchers, working at the Advanced Laser Light Source facility (Montreal, QC, Canada), have used ultrafast lasers to generate bursts of terahertz waves with the largest energies ever produced, which means they can see through objects in real time. "We're now at the cusp of translating our knowledge into industrial application," says Reid. "Where we are right now with our development of terahertz technology is where other researchers were when lasers were first invented. Since then, lasers have been used in everything from industry to everyday life. The possibilities for terahertz technology are just as mind-boggling."

Reid is focusing his attention on the backbone of the BC economy, the forest industry, and working closely with UNBC forestry professor Ian Hartley, student Tara Todoruk, and Bruce Sutherland of Wolftek Industries (Prince George, BC, Canada). Forestry companies are scrambling for a way to see the insides of trees so that logs can be properly positioned in the mill for maximum efficiency. Just viewing the outside of a tree is no longer good enough, as trees infested with the pine mountain beetle often have cracks inside that can greatly affect the wood quality and potential products. Terahertz technology would essentially give mill managers x-ray vision. Like x-rays, terahertz signals provide opportunities to see through objects and also see features inside these objects. But unlike x-rays, they don't pose health dangers.

"This is an example of how fundamental research can have direct application to industry and economic development," says Reid. "Right now, the challenge for us will be to stay at the forefront in commercializing the results of this research for the benefit of the local economy."


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