WATERLOO, Ont. – The new Electromagnetic Radiation Lab at the University of Waterloo is not a torture chamber, although it has the look of one.
Visitors stepping through the thick vault-like doors of the newly launched facility are immediately struck by the dizzying sight of 10,000 sinister-looking pointed cones protruding in every direction from the floor, ceiling and walls.
One false step on the narrow spike-lined walkway looks like sure death. And it’s no use screaming for help. The soundproof chamber is sealed so tight that it’s quiet enough to hear your own heartbeat.
Fortunately, those cones are made of harmless foam. And they’ve been meticulously laid out not to cause harm, but to block electromagnetic waves.
The laboratory is part of the new $15-million Centre for Intelligent Antenna and Radio Systems, a state-of-the-art facility that the school hopes will spawn new groundbreaking discoveries in wireless research, which could give a boost to consumer technology manufacturers and lead to advances in health care, satellite communication and nanotechnology.
The lab is capable of analyzing electromagnetic fields radiated by objects as minute as a strand of hair or as large as a two-ton truck. The school says it can study electromagnetic waves “with the highest precision over the widest range of frequency possible in any academic facility in the world.”
“Clearly our personal and professional lives are now completely dependent on wireless technologies, they’ve become necessities,” said Pearl Sullivan, the University of Waterloo’s dean of engineering. She noted the school is the second largest electrical and computing engineering hub in North America besides the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass.
“High-level work like this will profoundly affect society.”
Prof. Sujeet Chaudhuri said the lab could help make smartphones and tablets even more powerful and there is a lot of interest from the automobile industry in further incorporating wireless technologies into vehicles. But what’s truly exciting, he said, is how researchers could learn more about the higher frequency electromagnetic waves in the so-called terahertz range, which could lead to advances in biomedical, pharmaceutical, dental and non-invasive imaging technologies.
But don’t ask him to guess what those innovations might be.
Just as tech watchers in 2003 had no way to predict the advanced state of gadgetry today, it’s impossible to know what researchers will come up with once they better understand terahertz waves, Chaudhuri said.
“What we are doing is we’re moving up in the frequencies, we’re creating new technology platforms that will create all sorts of applications that we haven’t even imagined yet,” he said.
“In the terahertz regime, the technology … is in a very embryonic stage. Once the technology gets developed, the applications envisioned are infinite. That’s where electromagnetics will start contributing to medical sciences, non-invasive testing, drug discoveries, targeted drug delivery, all that will be done at those frequencies.
“We do not know where the technology will take us, that’s the excitement.”