In the Star Trek universe, the tricorder is a handheld device used by Kirk, Spock, and various red-shirted crew members to make detailed scans of unfamiliar planets and even less familiar life-forms. It can be used in sick bay to diagnose intergalactic patients, and in engineering to find which part of the warp core is missing.
One small device that can do all that must be total science-fiction, right? Well thanks to recent advances in x-ray technology, the tricorder might be much closer that you think.
When many of us hear of X-rays, the first thing we think of is a visit to the doctor's office. We're led into a big room, covered with a lead apron while the intended area is shot with those powerful, yet invisible rays. Or perhaps we think of a trip to the airport, where X-rays are used to check baggage and passengers before boarding a plane. But aside from that, X-rays tend to be - literally - out of sight, out of mind.
But that may be changing. The scientists at Tribogenics have found some creative ways to advance a technology that doesn't seem to have evolved much in the past 130 years. CEO Dale Fox and Chief Scientist Dr. Carlos Camara are taking advantage of an amazing scientific phenomenon similar to what occurs when light energy is created as an adhesive is peeled (try it yourself with some Scotch tape in a dark closet). They are harnessing that energy to create usable and portable X-rays.
For us non-scientists out there the technology is quite complicated, but the implications are not. Since the X-ray source is small, that means devices can be made smaller as well. Contrast this with the big and bulky machines we're used to seeing. These new machines are portable enough to carry around in a pocket and focused enough to limit dangerous, unnecessary exposure. Simply put, the possibilities are endless. X-ray devices could soon be used to scan virtually anything. It could suddenly be much easier to find a wall stud, diagnose a bone fracture in the battlefield or even detect the metallic composition in jewelry. From making everyday tasks easier to literally saving lives, this technology has tremendous potential.
The Tribogenics team says they're on the verge of making these possibilities become a reality. And if they do, they won't just be changing the way we think about X-rays, they might be changing the world too.
Video produced by Will Lerner and Jennie Josephson. Production by Chun Ming Huang, John Boyd, and Mike Baum. Editor: Nolan Cooper. Sound editor: John Adams. Graphics by Todd Tanner, Matt McDonald and Howard Kim for Yahoo! Studios.