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Discovery & Innovation

Inaugural Lemelson-Rensselaer
Student Prize Awarded

On Feb. 16, Rensselaer announced Brian Schulkin, a doctoral student in physics, as the winner of the first-ever $30,000 Lemelson-Rensselaer Student Prize. His device, called “Mini-Z,” could help catapult T-ray technology — touted as the next breakthrough in sensing and imaging — from the lab bench to the marketplace.

Based on the terahertz region of the electromagnetic spectrum, T-rays are useful for imaging defects within materials without destroying the objects or even removing them from their setting, according to Schulkin.

Scientists have been exploring the terahertz region for more than two decades, but one of the main obstacles has been the incredible size and weight of T-ray devices.

Schulkin’s ultralight, handheld device is dramatically smaller and lighter than any previous terahertz device, and it already has proven its ability to detect cracks in space shuttle foam, image tumors in breast tissue, and spot counterfeit watermarks on paper currency. The system, which weighs less than five pounds and fits snugly in a briefcase, could open the door to a wide range of applications in homeland security, biomedical imaging, and nondestructive testing of industrial components.

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Engineering Dean Alan Cramb and Brian Schulkin joined Mrs. Lemelson and President Jackson at the event.
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The device provides real-time data with no waiting, and its user-friendly design means people do not need special training to operate it. “It’s a turnkey system — all you have to do is open the box, set it up, and turn it on,” Schulkin says. “My vision for the Mini-Z is that it will be standard equipment in offices around the world, or in the lab for research.”

Schulkin’s patent-pending technology is available for licensing, and his team has received interest from a number of companies looking to commercialize
the Mini-Z. The potential applications include: evaluating the integrity of carbon fiber composites used in airplanes; imaging tumors without the need for harmful radiation; detecting explosives at airport security checkpoints; spotting landmines from a distance; and seeing biological agents through a sealed envelope.

Schulkin works under the guidance of Xi-Cheng Zhang, the J. Erik Jonsson ’22 Distinguished Professor of Science and director of the Center for Terahertz Research at Rensselaer.

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Rensselaer (ISSN 0898-1442) is published in Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter by the Office of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY 12180-3590. Opinions expressed in these pages do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or the policies of the Institute. ©2007 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.