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Record-breaking DARPA InP amplifier runs at 1012GHz

Terahertz electronics program could pave way for new sub-millimeter wave applications

DARPA's Terahertz Electronics program has created the fastest solid-state amplifier IC ever measured. The ten-stage common-source amplifier made from InP operates at a speed of one terahertz (1012 GHz) - 150 billion cycles faster than the existing world record of 850GHz set in 2012.

"Terahertz circuits promise to open up new areas of research and unforeseen applications in the sub-millimeter-wave spectrum, in addition to bringing unprecedented performance to circuits operating at more conventional frequencies," said Dev Palmer, DARPA program manager.

 "This breakthrough could lead to revolutionary technologies such as high-resolution security imaging systems, improved collision-avoidance radar, communications networks with many times the capacity of current systems and spectrometers that could detect potentially dangerous chemicals and explosives with much greater sensitivity."

Developed by Northrop Grumman Corporation, the InP Terahertz Monolithic Integrated Circuit (TMIC) exhibits a measured power gain of 9dB at 1.0 terahertz and 10dB at 1.03 terahertz. "Gains of six decibels or more start to move this research from the laboratory bench to practical applications-nine decibels of gain is unheard of at terahertz frequencies" said Palmer. "This opens up new possibilities for building terahertz radio circuits."

Current electronics using solid-state technologies have largely been unable to access the sub-millimeter band of the electromagnetic spectrum due to insufficient transistor performance. To address the 'terahertz gap'  engineers have traditionally used frequency conversion-converting alternating current at one frequency to alternating current at another frequency-to multiply circuit operating frequencies up from millimeter-wave frequencies. This approach, however, restricts the output power of electrical devices and adversely affects signal-to-noise ratio. Frequency conversion also increases device size, weight and power supply requirements.

DARPA has made a series of strategic investments in terahertz electronics through its HiFIVE, SWIFT and TFAST programs. The objective of the Terahertz (THz) Electronics program is to develop device and integration technologies necessary to realize compact, high-performance electronic circuits that operate at center frequencies exceeding 1.0 THz. 

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