Collaborative Research: Quantum Cascade Laser Transceivers for Terahertz Wireless Communication Grant uri icon


  • The terahertz is a region of the electromagnetic spectrum lying between microwaves and the infrared range, also known as the "terahertz gap" due to the lack of suitable technologies for its generation and manipulation. On the one hand, conventional electronic devices used to produce microwaves cannot operate at higher frequencies, while on the other hand optical sources such as terahertz lasers typically require cryogenic operation, which is impractical. Thus, novel approaches are needed to develop convenient terahertz sources. The goal of this project is to demonstrate a new class of terahertz sources based on a high-power mid-infrared semiconductor laser (so-called quantum cascade laser) designed to generate a comb of frequencies separated by precisely equidistant terahertz frequency intervals. The resulting terahertz radiation sources will show room temperature operation, narrow linewidth, and wide tunability. These would be attractive for many applications, especially remote sensing. Indeed, hundreds of chemicals from gases to drugs, explosives, and biomolecules have telltale absorption and emission features in the terahertz range. Terahertz sensing would allow one to monitor the ozone depletion, climate change, and environmental pollution. It would give insights into the formation and decay of stars in our galaxy and beyond. Such terahertz sources would also be very valuable in the studies of materials, since many fundamental excitations in matter such as plasma oscillations and sound waves exhibit resonances in the terahertz. The core of the proposed new device architecture consists of a mid-infrared quantum cascade laser generating an optical frequency comb with a terahertz spacing between longitudinal modes, named a harmonic frequency comb. However, instead of using infrared light emitted from the laser as in typical frequency combs, here the intracavity beating of the optical modes constituting the comb is exploited to generate a coherent terahertz signal at room temperature. The focus of this project is to demonstrate such new terahertz sources for sensing applications. These devices will benefit from unprecedented compactness, having a footprint smaller than 1 square centimeter. Thanks to the nature of a frequency comb, they will generate terahertz tones with narrow linewidth (in the Hz range) and high stability. Moreover, they will be able to operate at room temperature with a broad tuning range, from microwaves to the terahertz region, as a result of the fast electron dynamics of the laser. By connecting and synchronizing an array of such devices, it will be possible to coherently scale up the emitted power and enable terahertz beam control, such as beam steering and shaping. Because of these unique features, the proposed sources will rival and potentially outperform other existing systems for terahertz sensing. This award reflects NSF''s statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation''s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

date/time interval

  • 2018 - 2021