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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 April, 2004, 09:58 GMT 10:58 UK
Push to tap radio wave technology
Blurred light
Manufacturing with light opens up many possibilities
Healthcare, communication and security could be revolutionised by plans to exploit new technologies in the UK.

Using radio waves, microwaves, infra-red and x-rays - collectively known as the electromagnetic spectrum - in innovative ways could bring in 8 billion of new business, says a report.

Applications include body scans that can identify tumours without surgery.

The ideas are published in a UK government study entitled Exploiting the Electromagnetic Spectrum

Benefiting people

Other potential uses include optical switches for super-fast broadband networks, CCTV cameras that can see through clothing and the introduction of tiny lasers for manufacturing on the nano-scale.

The report was compiled by the Foresight project, a group of scientists and business people charged by government with finding new opportunities for science and technology.

According to Professor Will Stewart, the expert adviser to the Foresight project, the potential of using the spectrum in new ways is massive.

"We have more control over electromagnetics than we ever had before and it enables us to do things with the spectrum that will be for the benefit of real people," he said.

Using light in manufacturing on a very small scale - a kind of optical tweezer that can manipulate molecules - offers huge potential for the drug industry.

Cameras that see everything

Next generation labs-on-chips could be mass produced and used to monitor patients, treat diabetes, provide targeted drug treatment and detect tumours.

This project has identified lots of exciting opportunities for the UK to turn invented in Britain into made in Britain
Stephen Timms, E-commerce Minister
In the medical arena, there is scope for new imaging techniques which would be more effective and less uncomfortable for patients than current x-rays or MRI scans.

Part of the electromagnetic spectrum allows doctors to see the body in transparency, which in tandem with nanotags that can be inserted into the body, would mean physicians could carry out procedures that currently require surgery.

Optical switches could replace electrical ones in data networks allowing providers to offer super-fast broadband with speeds of up to 100 megabits.

More controversially parts of the spectrum could be used to create next-generation CCTV cameras that could see through clothing to detect weapons and drugs from a distance.

It could be used in airports and even town centres, predicted Prof Stewart.

"There is a political desire to make us all safer and there has been interest from the MoD and the Home Office," he said.

Made in Britain

The project was sponsored by E-commerce Minister Stephen Timms.

300 years after Sir Isaac Newton laid the foundations for the understanding of the electromagnetic spectrum, the time is ripe to use it he believes.

"The UK has an outstanding scientific track record across the electromagnetic spectrum but we need to get better at exploiting this expertise," he said.

"This project has identified lots of exciting opportunities for the UK to turn invented in Britain into made in Britain," he added.

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