Students at the California Institute of Technology have invented a new chip that spits out terahertz waves at a rate of roughly 300 times per second. What does that mean for consumers? In the not too distant future, you’ll be able to buy a phone with a camera that can see through certain materials. Our headline says “x-ray vision”, but that’s a bit misleading. An x-ray is defined as a wavelength that measures between 0.01 nanometers and 10 nanometers in length. Terahertz waves on the other hand, they’re between 1 millimeter and 0.1 millimeters.

What are the practical uses of such waves? The students say you’ll be able to take a picture of a piece of chicken you’re eating and get an accurate measurement of how much fat is contains. Your phone will also be able to identify drugs, explosives, and weapons hidden inside everyday object. That might not sound too compelling, but then again the internet was invented so universities could easily exchange research papers. Today we have 1080p video streaming, Skype calls, and more social networks than we care to count.

When will this technology realistically reach mobile phones? This writer used to work in a research lab and is all too familiar with the painful transition that academic research needs to go through to end up in the private sector. He’d say at least half a decade, probably a full decade just to be on the safe side.

In the television show Star Trek the members onboard the space traveling vessel had devices that they could point at pretty much damn near everything and get a detailed profile of what it is they were looking at. The research that these students have published brings us one step closer to that reality.