Friday, March 24, 2017

Spain: New sensors to detect foreign bodies in food

Researchers from the Public University of Navarre (UPNA) and the Navarre-based company Anteral SL, have designed a new system of sensors intended to improve quality controls in the agro-food sector.

These devices make it possible to detect foreign bodies, such as metal, paper, insects, plastic or glass, in a food production chain and identify pathogenic microorganisms in real time. This development, based on terahertz technology, has been possible thanks to a project funded with almost 300,000 Euro by the Spanish Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness in the framework of the 2013-2016 State Plan for Scientific and Technical Research and Innovation.

The project, called TeraFOOD, was developed by the UPNA's Research Group, formed by Íñigo Ederra Urzainqui, Cebrián García González, Ramón Gonzalo García, Juan Carlos Iriarte Galarregui (head researcher), Carlos Quemada Mayoral and Jorge Teniente Vallinas, working in partnership with the firm Anteral SL, which is specialised in the design of antennas and terahertz technology and has acted as coordinator of the initiative.

These devices are based on terahertz technology, a band of the electromagnetic spectrum located between the microwaves (those needed by mobile phones or TVs) and the infrared waves. The terahertz band is the last unexplored region of the electromagnetic spectrum, due to the difficulty of generating and detecting this type of wave; however, one of the fields where terahertz offers enormous technological potential is in the sensing of substances and materials. This is because almost all molecules have a characteristic trace in this band, which makes it possible to distinguish and identify them.

"The system is a great step forward in this field, since there are no similar devices intended for the carrying out of inspections in the agro-food sector, neither nationally nor internationally," concludes Juan Carlos Iriarte.

This terahertz-based technology is already being used in the area of security to obtain non-intrusive images of hidden weapons. In fact, the UPNA Antenna Group actively participates in the application of this technological development in this sector.

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