EPFL’s POWERlab scientists have developed a new ultrafast nanoscale device that’s capable of producing high-power terahertz waves.
According to the scientists, the nanodevice can operate more than 10 times faster than today’s fastest transistors, and is about 100 times faster than the transistors we find on our computers.
Terahertz waves fall between microwave and infrared radiation in the electromagnetic spectrum.
These waves are prized for their distinctive properties of penetrating paper, clothing, wood and walls, as well as detecting air pollution.
They could also revolutionize security and medical imaging systems as they are a type of non-ionizing radiation – meaning they pose no risk to human health.
What’s more, their ability to carry vast quantities of data could hold the key to faster wireless communications.
They are however not widely used because they are costly and cumbersome to generate.
EPFL is now planning to change that with their low-cost nanodevice.
According to the team led by Professor Elison Matioli, the device generates extremely high-power signals in just a few picoseconds, producing high-power THz waves.
The technology, which can be mounted on a chip or a flexible medium, could one day be installed in smartphones and other hand-held devices, contends the scientists.
The compact, inexpensive, fully electric nanodevice generates high-intensity waves from a tiny source in next to no time.
It works by producing a powerful ‘spark,’ with the voltage spiking from 10 V (or lower) to 100 V in the range of a picosecond.
The device is capable of generating this spark almost continuously, meaning it can emit up to 50 million signals every second.
When hooked up to antennas, the system can produce and radiate high-power THz waves.
The device consists of two metal plates situated very close together, down to 20 nanometers apart.
When a voltage is applied, electrons surge towards one of the plates, where they form a nanoplasma.
Once the voltage reaches a certain threshold, the electrons are emitted almost instantly to the second plate.
This rapid movement enabled by such fast switches creates a high-intensity pulse that produces high-frequency waves.
Image and content: EPFL