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ZITE1291 ENGINEERING RESEARCH 1B CDF LITERATURE REVIEW PROJECT
MIDN GERARD MARTIN, RAN
SUPERVISOR: DR. GREG MILFORD
23 OCTOBER 2009
Terahertz Technology refers to the research and development of devices operating at terahertz (THz) frequencies, generally deﬁned as 100GHz - 10THz. This essentially unexplored region of the electromagnetic spectrum has received much interest in recent years from both the scientiﬁc and corporate world because of the unique properties of THz waves. These unique properties are proving to be very beneﬁcial for many scientiﬁc ﬁelds and very proﬁtable for companies developing the technology for commercial use. The ’THz gap’ has been studied extensively since the 1980’s and many applications have been proposed particularly in recent years due to the rapid development of semiconductor materials, laser technology and photonics . This report will cover the current state of THz technology based on available literature. Additionally, analysis of the behaviour of the radiation and the technical aspects of the devices will be used to examine limitations on proposed applications and areas of potential research.
Technical Characteristics and Applications
THz waves are capable of penetrating many dielectric (non-conducting) materials opaque to visible light . THz waves can pass through materials such as cardboard, plastics and fabrics. Accordingly THz waves can be used to detect concealed weapons (see Figure 1) and could replace conventional metal detectors at airports and other places requiring such security. These penetration characteristics have been exploited by many, including NASA which uses THz waves to inspect the protective foam used in their space shuttles and identify the thickness and any micro-structural variations . It was imperfections in the foam surrounding the fuel tank which led to the Columbia disaster, meaning advancements in THz technology could save a lot of money and, most importantly, lives.
Figure 1: Hidden weapon detection with THz waves  Another characteristic of THz waves is that they are non-ionising, meaning that unlike X-rays they do no damage to human tissue or DNA. The company 1
TeraView  was the ﬁrst to commercially exploit THz radiation, they produce products that use spectroscopic imaging to characterise molecular structures  and enable 3D imaging of structures and materials. THz waves are particularly useful in diagnosis as they can pass through clothing and skin  and detect abnormalities such as cancers and tumours.
Figure 2: Detection of a tumor, an application of TeraView research into distinguishing types of tissue.  TeraView also produces an explosives detection system. THz spectroscopy can be used to ﬁnd the spectral features of a wide range of molecules , once these features are known it is possible to use these features to identify molecules remotely. Explosive detection systems which use this process could be placed at airports and, using spectroscopy, remotely detect explosives (or any other material of interest, drugs for example). Due to the penetrability of THz waves, molecules can be detected through suitcases, boxes and other packing material. Currently being developed is a diﬀuse reﬂection technique which could eliminate the need for line of sight between the emitter and detector . Also of considerable importance is the safety of using this radiation around humans. THz waves (meV photon energy) are non-ionising and so much safer than Xrays (keV photon energy), however tests will need to be done before devices are installed in public places such as airports. THz waves experience relatively high attenuation in the Earth’s atmosphere (particularly compared to microwaves which experience nearly no attenuation) as the water molecules in the air readily absorb radiation at THz frequencies. While it is not possible to use THz waves for long distance communication on Earth (’last mile’ high-speed short-distance communications has been proposed however), at higher altitudes transmission of THz waves becomes almost lossless, making aircraft-to-aircraft, aircraft-to-satellite and satellite-to-satellite communications a very real possibility . It may seem that the high attenuation THz waves experience in the atmosphere is a problem however the interaction of THz waves and the atmosphere can be 2
exploited with the right technology. A cities air quality, humidity, cloud cover and atmospheric chemical make-up can all be monitored remotely, from the ground or from a satellite . The National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT, Japan) is currently conducting research into remote sensing and is working towards a THz wave propagation model which includes development of an atmospheric radiative transfer model [as above]. A number of radiative transfer models exist in the microwave and infrared regions however there are a number of discrepancies between these and laboratory observations of THz waves. The current models cannot account for some of the absorption that occurs in the atmosphere (indicated by spectral lines)  and it is currently unknown why this is the case. Anomalous far-wing absorption, absorption by water vapor dimers or larger cluster and absorption by collisions between atmospheric molecules have been proposed to explain this ’continuum absorption’ . History has shown that many advancements in technology have been due to war. This may prove to be the case for THz technology as there are many promising military applications of THz waves. Research projects funded by the US Army National Ground Intelligence Center  have found that the radar absorption coating on stealth aircraft is ineﬀective against THz waves and that THz radar can detect hidden military targets, for example dug-in tanks (see Figure 3) and land mines. Many other research and development programs are currently underway. In June 2009, the US Oﬃce of Naval Research awarded Raytheon a contract to develop a 100 kW experimental Free Electron Laser (FEL) for missile defence which will operate at THz frequencies. Additionally, in April 2009, the US Navy awarded Boeing a $163 M contract to develop an FEL ’directed energy anti-missile weapon’. In May 2009, The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded Northrop Grumman Corporation phase 1 of the $37-million Terahertz Electronics contract  which will involve developing technology for the high speed integrated circuits that will be used in THz communications and radar systems.
Figure 3: THz radar imaging of military targets .
Many devices exist for producing either continuous or pulsed THz waves. Since the THz gap exists between the regions of microwaves and visible light, in developing devices for use in the THz range both electronic and photonic devices have been used and modiﬁed. In general, electronic devices operate at the low end and photonic devices at the high end of the THz region. Types of sources include: electron beam sources - gyrotrons , Free Electron Lasers (FELs)  and Backward Wave Oscillators (BWOs) , Far Infrared (FIR) pumped gas lasers - optically or electrically pumped CO2 lasers , solid state sources - electrically or optically pumped solid state (ceramics, glasses or crystals) lasers , semiconductor lasers - Quantum Cascade Lasers(QCLs)  are most promising, parametric sources , Photomixers  and frequency multipliers - typically a solid state laser driving a PlanarSchottky diode frequency multiplier circuit  however frequencies are limited to 2 THz , up to 2.5 THz has been produced with BWOs driving a chain of frequency multipliers . A number of these devices are shown in Figure 4 comparing their output power to their operation frequency. These are typical numbers only and it should be noted that cooling plays a major role in the output power.
Figure 4: Comparison of a number of continuous wave THz sources in terms of their output power and operation frequency . The most promising sources are FELs, pumped lasers and QCLs and details of their operation will be covered here. Of course there are many other devices, the list above is certainly not exhaustive. Unfortunately it is impossible to do justice to all research being done in such a rapidly expanding ﬁeld. 4
Figure 5: Setup of an undulator, as used in a free electron laser. The periodically varying magnetic ﬁeld forces the electron beam on an oscillatory path, which leads to emission of radiation . Free Electron Lasers  work by accelerating a beam of electrons to relativistic speed and sending them through a magnetic structure. The electrons experience alternating magnetic ﬁelds causing them to oscillate and follow a sinusoidal curve (see Figure 5). As the electrons oscillate they accelerate and hence produce an electromagnetic wave. At the start of the tube the EM waves are out of phase as the electrons are all accelerating at diﬀerent times. However when the EM waves are emitted they constructively interfere with electrons further down the tube. This happens many times and causes electron ’bunching’, where electrons will form groups. By the time they reach the end of the tube they are emitting photons in phase. This produces coherent radiation  up to kilowatt level power . Perhaps the best feature of FELs is that they are widely tunable, from microwaves to X-rays . The frequency is easily adjusted by either changing the speed of the electrons before they enter the undulator or changing the strength of the magnetic ﬁeld . A more widely used method of producing radiation at any frequency is the pumped laser. Pumped lasers consist of a gain medium. The electrons in the gain medium are ’pumped’ to a higher energy level. A decay is triggered and the device emits radiation proportional to the energy gap that the electrons decay across (see Figure 6).
Figure 6: Transitions of electrons in the gas cavity of a pumped laser. A metastable state is used to create population inversion and hence a coherent emission of THz radiation .
In the case of a CO2 pumped gas laser, a CO2 laser is ﬁred into a cavity ﬁlled with a gas. This gas (the gain medium) then lases at THz frequencies . The emitted frequency is dependent on the type of gas in the cavity. Because of this, the device is not very tunable although limited tunable sources have been demonstrated . Output power is very limited and with a pump laser of 20-100 W, an output from the gas cavity of 1-20 mW can be expected although a 2.5 THz 30 mW source has been demonstrated . The last THz source to be discussed is the Quantum Cascade Laser (QCL). QCLs, like FELs, are very tunable (typically 800 GHz-100 THz) however need to operate at temperatures as low as 4 K  and have relatively low power output . QCLs work on inter-sub-band transitions of a semiconductor structure, the structure is constructed so that adjacent materials have progressively lower valence bands (as shown graphically in Figure 7). Their operation is relatively simple: under the inﬂuence of an electric ﬁeld an electron tunnels into a quantum well, transitions down a sub-level in the quantum well and emits a photon. The electron then tunnels into the adjacent well and the process continues. The process is very eﬃcient as each step produces more optical gain and multiple photons are emitted per electron.
Figure 7: Gain region of a QCL, shows electron energy versus position in the structure, the overall downward trend of energy towards the right-hand side is caused by an applied electric ﬁeld.  Quantum Cascade Lasers are quite compact and have a very narrow linewidth , making them particularly suitable for applications in spectroscopy. QCLs are being developed that can operate at room temperature which will make them even more commercially viable . QCLs operating at room temperature have reached milliwatt output levels while liquid nitrogen cooled devices have reached hundreds of milliwatts . Current problems with sources include but are certainly not limited to: 1. High frequency roll oﬀ in traditional semiconductor sources due to reactive parasitics and circuit transit times. 2. Domination of resistance at high frequencies produce a large amount of signal losses. 3. Physical scaling of tube sources. 6
4. The need for large magnetic and electric ﬁelds and high current densities in tube sources. 5. Cooling, cooling, cooling. Very few devices can operate reliably or continuously at room temperature. Sensors also play an important role in THz technology however they are far more developed than sources at this time and so will not be discussed in depth. The main method of sensing THz radiation is via thermal absorption, which can be used to change resistivity of a device, or change the volume or pressure of a gas, both of which can be measured. A photomixer can also be used to detect THz waves by mixing them with a beam of known frequency, the diﬀerences can be detected and the source beam decoded. Currently there are near-quantum-limited detectors that can measure both broadband or extremely narrowband signals up to or exceeding 1 THz . The main problem with sensors is that the photon energy of THz radiation (1.2-12.4 meV) is much lower than Earth’s background radiation (≈ 26 meV). Therefore, high sensitive devices must use cryogenic cooling for operation in the THz range . There are also many other devices that ﬁt into THz technology such as high speed integrated circuits, for processing data before it gets to the source and after it’s received by the sensor.
Terahertz Technology is already being marketed, mainly for medical and military applications, and continuing advancements in the ﬁeld will see many new applications being realised and many industries being revolutionised (particularly in terms of non-destructive testing). Technical diﬃculties are being overcome literally as we speak and it will not be long before there are as little problems with sources as there are with sensors. The most promising sources currently are Free Electron Lasers, CO2 Lasers and Quantum Cascade Lasers, which are already being used in the commercial environment. Only time will tell what great opportunities lie in this underdeveloped region of the electromagnetic spectrum, the THz gap.
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