Terahertz (THz) Technologies

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From a photonics point of view, progress in communications, sensing and biomedical applications necessitates advances in and attention to the control of the electromagnetic THz spectral band—a band long-neglected compared to its microwave and infrared/optical neighbors. In communications, the need for ever-increasing bandwidth is moving applications that have historically resided deep in the RF and microwave bands upward in frequency towards and into the THz band (100 – 10,000 GHz). Simultaneously, the security-screening needs of the modern world are driving a search for non-ionizing sensing capabilities that can quickly and easily scan for concealed items. The desire to combine reasonable spatial localizability with safe, penetrative capability necessitates the use of THz frequencies. Because many biological and chemical molecules have distinct signatures at THz frequencies due to their rotational and vibrational resonances, THz imaging and spectroscopy are also very important for many biomedical applications. As a result, progress in electromagnetics in the THz spectral bands is currently undergoing a renaissance, with burgeoning applications in sensing and detection, tumor recognition and imaging, DNA analysis, radar, and communications. However, a number of significant challenges remain and the huge potential of THz technology is far from fully realized. Indeed, DARPA has identified the “THz Gap” as a major open research area. From a phononics point of view, management of heat in numerous heat-producing technological systems (from microprocessors, to renewable energy systems) is a major challenge. Control of phonon transport is a key technology that will enable breakthroughs in the thermal management of electrical and electronic energy systems. The phonons that are primarily responsible for thermal transport in electrically insulating materials currently used in engineered systems are THz phonons. Paths to achieve this control necessitate the design of composite structures and materials at the nanoscale. Designing the thermal properties of materials in the THz regime has been identified by industry (microelectronics) and federal agencies (Navy, etc.) as a major open research area. The race for breakthroughs in thermal transport materials has only recently started, with the US lagging behind its international competitors such as China, France, Greece, Spain, Switzerland, and Japan.  

Core Team Members:
R. W. Ziolkowski (ECE / Optical Science)
H. Xin (ECE / Physics)
M. Gehm (ECE / Optical Science)
L. Powers (BME / ECE / Bio5)
P. Lucas (MSE)
K. Muralidharan (MSE)
S. Seraphin (MSE, USIF)

The THz team recently won a National Science Foundation Major Research Instrumentation grant (PI: R. Ziolkowski (ECE)) to design and build a near-field THz-time-domain spectroscopy (THz-TDS) instrument. To learn more about funding for this project, click here.  Other research activities in this area are supported by industry, the Federal government and the UA College of Engineering (Engineering Forum and Research Initiatives-Arizona).

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