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  • THz Photonic Integrated Circuit Formed
Jun 2010
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M., June 30, 2010 — By integrating a terahertz quantum-cascade laser and diode mixer into a monolithic solid-state transceiver, researchers at Sandia National Laboratories successfully formed a terahertz (THz) photonic integrated circuit that can provide improved control of the underutilized THz frequency.

The researchers rendered unnecessary the precision alignment of optical components formerly needed to couple the laser to the detector by combining a detector and laser on the same chip to make a compact receiver. 

Terahertz radiation, located in the range between the microwave and far-infrared parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, is of interest because some frequencies can be used to “see through” certain materials. Potentially they could be used in dental or skin cancer imaging to distinguish different tissue types. They also permit improved nondestructive testing of materials during production monitoring. Other frequencies could be used to penetrate clothing, and possibly identify chemical or biological weapons and narcotics.

Since the demonstration of semiconductor THz quantum cascade lasers (QCLs) in 2002, it has been apparent that these devices could offer unprecedented advantages in technologies used for security, communications, radar, chemical spectroscopy, radioastronomy and medical diagnostics.

Until now, however, sensitive coherent transceiver (transmitter/receiver) systems were assembled from a collection of discrete and often very large components. Similar to moving from discrete transistor to integrated chips in the microwave world and moving from optical breadboards to photonic integrated circuits in the visible/infrared world, this work represents the first steps toward reduction in size and enhanced functionality in the THz frequency spectrum.

The work, currently described online in the June 27 issue of Nature Photonics, represents the first successful monolithic integration of a THz QCL and diode mixer to form a simple, but generically useful, THz photonic integrated circuit — a microelectronic terahertz transceiver.

With investment from Sandia’s Laboratory-Directed Research and Development (LDRD) program, the lab focused on the integration of THz QCLs with sensitive, high-speed THz Schottky diode detectors, resulting in a compact, reliable solid-state platform. The transceiver embeds a small Schottky diode into the ridge waveguide cavity of a QCL, so that local-oscillator power is directly supplied to the cathode of the diode from the QCL internal fields, with no optical coupling path.

The Sandia semiconductor THz development team, headed by Michael Wanke, also included Erik Young, Christopher Nordquist, Michael Cich, Charles Fuller, John Reno, Mark Lee — all of Sandia labs — and Albert Grine of LMATA Government Services LLC, in Albuquerque. Young recently joined Philips Lumileds Lighting Co., in San Jose, Calif.

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An experimental model of an electrical circuit or complex assembly; a prototype.
1. A device designed to convert the energy of incident radiation into another form for the determination of the presence of the radiation. The device may function by electrical, photographic or visual means. 2. A device that provides an electric output that is a useful measure of the radiation that is incident on the device.
A two-electrode device with an anode and a cathode that passes current in only one direction. It may be designed as an electron tube or as a semiconductor device.
electromagnetic spectrum
The total range of wavelengths, extending from the shortest to the longest wavelength or conversely, that can be generated physically. This range of electromagnetic wavelengths extends practically from zero to infinity and includes the visible portion of the spectrum known as light.
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.
Pertaining to optics and the phenomena of light.
quantum cascade laser
A Quantum Cascade Laser (QCL) is a type of semiconductor laser that emits light in the mid- to far-infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. Quantum cascade lasers offer many benefits: They are tunable across the mid-infrared spectrum from 5.5 to 11.0 µm (900 cm-1 to 1800 cm-1); provide a rapid response time; and provide spectral brightness that is significantly brighter than even a synchrotron source. Quantum cascade lasers comprise alternating layers of semiconductor...
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