Chips meet tubes


The sub­mil­lime­ter wave, or ter­a­hertz, part of the elec­tro­mag­netic spec­trum falls be­tween the fre­quen­cies of 0.3 and 3 ter­a­hertz, be­tween mi­crowaves and in­frared light. His­tor­i­cally, de­vice physics has pre­vented tra­di­tional solid state elec­tron­ics (mi­crochips) from op­er­at­ing at the ter­a­hertz scale. Un­lock­ing this band’s po­ten­tial may ben­e­fit mil­i­tary ap­pli­ca­tions such as data rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions, im­proved radar and unique meth­ods of spec­troscopy-imaging tech­niques that pro­vide bet­ter tools for sci­en­tific re­search. How­ever, ac­cess to th­ese ap­pli­ca­tions is lim­ited due to physics.

Re­searchers un­der the De­fense Ad­vanced Re­search Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Ter­a­hertz Elec­tron­ics (THz) pro­gramme have de­signed and demon­strated a 0.85 Ter­a­hertz power am­pli­fier us­ing a mi­cro­ma­chined vac­uum tube—a world’s first. The achieve­ment comes from DARPA-funded re­searchers at Northrop Grum­man Elec­tronic Sys­tems, who built the 1 cen­time­tre-wide trav­el­ling wave vac­uum tube. The vac­uum tube power am­pli­fier is only one achieve­ment of the broader THz pro­gramme, which seeks to de­velop a va­ri­ety of break­through com­po­nent and in­te­gra­tion tech­nolo­gies nec­es­sary to one day build com­plex THz cir­cuits for com­mu­ni­ca­tions and sens­ing.

“Fur­ther re­search and de­vel­op­ment in this field will help un­lock ap­pli­ca­tions for our mil­i­tary in this his­tor­i­cally dif­fi­cult to ac­cess part of the spec­trum,” said Palmer.

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