Congressman Tours Electrical Engineering Lab

Steve Womack (second from left) learned about the medical and security applications of terahertz imaging from Magda El-Shenawee (left), Tyler Bowman (second from right) and Nathan Burford (right)
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Steve Womack (second from left) learned about the medical and security applications of terahertz imaging from Magda El-Shenawee (left), Tyler Bowman (second from right) and Nathan Burford (right)

Earlier this month, Congressman Steve Womack visited the lab of Magda El-Shenawee, professor of electrical engineering, to learn about terahertz imaging research at the College of Engineering.

El-Shenawee’s lab features a unique combination of imaging technologies. Her system uses the terahertz range of the electromagnetic spectrum, which lies between the optical and microwave ranges. This frequency, which has a higher resolution than microwaves and greater penetration than the optical frequency, is ideal for producing high-quality images that can be used in many fields, including the medical and security fields.

During his visit, Womack learned about a potential medical application of terahertz imaging for breast cancer treatment. Researchers in El-Shenawee’s lab are developing a process to test tissue from lumpectomies during surgery in order to improve patient outcomes.

In order to make sure they have removed all cancerous tissue, medical professionals must examine the margins, or edges, of the removed tissue. This is currently examined by a lab after the surgery is completed and the patient has been released. El-Shenawee’s system would enable them to determine this during the initial operation. If the sample reveals that any of the tumor has been left behind, the surgeon can remove additional tissue immediately, reducing the need for the patient to undergo additional surgeries. El-Shenawee is collaborating with a Northwest Arkansas Pathology Associates on this project.

 “The advancements in breast cancer detection that you are working on are inspiring,” said Womack in a letter to El-Shenawee. “I believe your hard work will have a life-changing impact on many women and their families.”

A second application of El-Shenawee’s system is in the field of security. Terahertz imaging is not harmful to humans, and it has the potential to identify narcotics, explosives and plastic or ceramic weapons. This makes it ideal for security screening. Researchers demonstrated this capability for Womack, concealing weapons and gun powder on a manikin, then revealing the hidden weapons with the imaging system.

El-Shenawee is also working with local industry, including companies such as APEI and Space Photonics, Inc. to use terahertz imaging on electronic components. Her system can produce images of circuits inside components, to make sure they are intact. It can also be used to test security measures, making sure that competitors cannot use similar technology to examine and reproduce circuit designs.

“We are very pleased that Congressman Womack took the time to learn about this timely research,” said Juan Balda, head of the Department of Electrical Engineering. “Dr. El-Shenawee’s work has potential to contribute to advances in several different fields ranging from biomedical to security, and the congressman’s interest shows that he understands the importance of innovative engineering projects like this one to the economic development of our state.”


Camilla Shumaker, director of communications
College of Engineering


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