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New Terahertz Device Created
Mar 2007
LOS ALAMOS, N.M., March 15, 2007 -- A device for manipulating terahertz (THz) radiation created at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) could be the basis for novel electronics and photonics applications such as new imaging methods and communication technologies.

In research published in the journal Nature, Los Alamos scientist Hou-Tong Chen and his colleagues explain how metamaterials (artificial materials with properties derived from their subwavelength structures instead of their compositions) can be designed to efficiently control THz waves. The THz range of the electromagnetic spectrum lies between the infrared and microwave wavelengths.

According to Chen, "Devices that generate and detect THz radiation are already in development, but techniques to actually control the waves are lagging behind. This is the next logical step in the development of terahertz technologies for wider electronics and photonics applications."

Like microwaves, terahertz radiation has the ability to penetrate a wide variety of nonconducting materials like paper, plastics, wood and ceramics. Because it can "see" through plastics and cardboard, it might also be used in manufacturing to inspect packaged objects for quality control or process monitoring. THz radiation is sensitive to water content, which means it might be used to detect differences in body tissue density. Because terahertz radiation is nonionizing, it does not damage DNA like x-rays and might someday be used as a safer alternative for certain types of medical and dental imaging. Nonionizing means the radiation does not have enough energy to convert electrically neutral atoms into ions by knocking an atom's electron from its orbit.

To create their device, Chen and his colleagues used microfabrication processes to lay down an array of gold metamaterial structures over a semiconductor substrate. An applied voltage between the substrate and the metamaterial enables the device to modulate the intensity of THz waves by up to 50 percent. The experimental demonstration of the device exceeds the performance of existing electrical THz modulators, Chen said, and the team hopes to further improve the device's performance in coming months.

In addition to Chen, other members of the THz device development team include Willie Padilla, formerly of Los Alamos and now with Boston College; Richard Averitt, formerly of Los Alamos and now with Boston University; Antoinette Taylor from Los Alamos; and Joshua Zide and Arthur Gossard from the University of California, Santa Barbara. The research was supported by Laboratory Directed Research and Development funds and the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies, a DOE/Office of Science Nanoscale Research Center.

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An electromagnetic wave lying within the region of the frequency spectrum that is between about 1000 MHz (1 GHz) and 100,000 MHz (100 GHz). This is equivalent to the wavelength spectrum that is between one millimeter and one meter, and is also referred to as the infrared and short wave spectrum.
The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
terahertz radiation
Electromagnetic radiation with frequencies between 300 GHz and 10 THz, and existing between regions of the electromagnetic spectrum that are typically classified as the far-infrared and microwave regions. Because terahertz waves have the ability to penetrate some solid materials, they have the potential for applications in medicine and surveillance.
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