Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory, along with collaborators in Turkey and Japan, have created a compact device that could lead to portable, battery-operated sources of T-rays, or terahertz radiation. By doing so, the researchers, led by Ulrich Welp of Argonne's Materials Science Division, have successfully bridged the "terahertz gap" – scientists' name for the range of frequencies between microwaves (on the lower side) and infrared (on the higher side) of the electromagnetic spectrum.
While scientists and engineers have produced microwave radiation using conventional electric circuits for more than 50 years, Welp said, terahertz radiation could not be generated that way because of the physical limitations of the semiconducting circuit components.
"Right around 1 terahertz, you have a range of frequencies where there have never been any good solid-state sources," he added. "You can make those frequencies if you are willing to put together a whole table full of expensive equipment, but now we've been able to make a simple, compact solid-state source."
Unlike far more energetic X-rays, T-rays do not have sufficient energy to "ionize" an atom by knocking loose one of its electrons. This ionization causes the cellular damage that can lead to radiation sickness or cancer. Since T-rays are non-ionizing radiation, like radio waves or visible light, people exposed to terahertz radiation will suffer no ill effects. Furthermore, although terahertz radiation does not penetrate through metals and water, it does penetrate through many common materials, such as leather, fabric, cardboard and paper.
These qualities make terahertz devices one of the most promising new technologies for airport and national security. Unlike today's metal or X-ray detectors, which can identify only a few obviously dangerous materials, checkpoints that look instead at T-ray absorption patterns could not only detect but also identify a much wider variety of hazardous or illegal substances.
T-rays can also penetrate the human body by almost half a centimeter, and they have already begun to enable doctors to better detect and treat certain types of cancers, especially those of the skin and breast, Welp said. Dentists could also use T-rays to image their patients' teeth.
The new T-ray sources created at Argonne use high-temperature superconducting crystals grown at the University of Tsukuba in Japan. These crystals comprise stacks of so-called Josephson junctions that exhibit a unique electrical property: when an external voltage is applied, an alternating current will flow back and forth across the junctions at a frequency proportional to the strength of the voltage; this phenomenon is known as the Josephson effect.
These alternating currents then produce electromagnetic fields whose frequency is tuned by the applied voltage. Even a small voltage – around two millivolts per junction – can induce frequencies in the terahertz range, according to Welp.
Since each of these junctions is tiny – a human hair is roughly 10,000 times as thick – the researchers were able to stack approximately 1,000 of them on top of each other in order to generate a more powerful signal. However, even though each junction would oscillate with the same frequency, the researchers needed to find a way to make them all radiate in phase.
"That's been the challenge all along," Welp said. "If one junction oscillates up while another junction oscillates down, they'll cancel each other out and you won't get anything."
In order to synchronize the signal, Argonne physicist Alexei Koshelev suggested that the stacks of Josephson junctions should be shaped into resonant cavities, which visiting scientist Lufti Ozyuzer of the Izmir Institute of Technology, Turkey, and graduate student Cihan Kurter then fashioned. When the width of the cavities was precisely tuned to the frequencies set by the voltage, the natural resonances of the structure synchronized the oscillations and thus amplified the T-ray output, in a method similar to the production of light in a laser.
"Once you apply the voltage," Welp said, "some junctions will start to oscillate. If those have the proper frequency, an oscillating electric field will grow in the cavity, which will pull in more and more and more of the other junctions, until in the end we have the entire stack synchronized."
By keeping the length and thickness of the cavities constant while varying their width between 40 and 100 micrometers, the researchers were able to generate frequencies from 0.4 to 0.85 terahertz at a signal power of up to 0.5 microwatts. Welp hopes to expand the range of available frequencies and to increase the strength of the signal by making the Josephson cavities longer or by linking them in arrays.
"The more power you have, the easier it is to adopt this technology for all sorts of applications," he said. "Our data indicate that the power stored in the resonant cavities is significantly larger than the detected values, though we need to improve the extraction efficiency. If we can get the signal strength up to 1 milliwatt, it will be a great success."
Collaborators on this research were Lutfi Ozyuzer, Alexei Koshelev, Cihan Kurter, Nachappa (sami) Gopalsami, Qing'An Li, Ken Gray, Wai-Kwong Kwok and Ulrich Welp of Argonne; Masashi Tachiki from the University of Tokyo; Kazuo Kadowaki, Takashi Yamamoto, Hidetoshi Minami and Hayato Yamaguchi from the University of Tsukuba; and Takashi Tachiki from the National Defense Academy of Japan.
The research was supported by DOE's Office of Basic Energy Sciences and by Argonne's Laboratory Directed Research and Development funds.
A scientific paper based on their research, "Emission of Coherent THz Radiation from Superconductors," appears in the November 23 issue of Science.
Argonne National Laboratory, a renowned R&D center, brings the world's brightest scientists and engineers together to find exciting and creative new solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation's first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America 's scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.
Steve McGregor | EurekAlert!
Laser sensor LAH-G1 - optical distance sensors with measurement value display
15.08.2017 | WayCon Positionsmesstechnik GmbH
Engineers find better way to detect nanoparticles
14.08.2017 | Washington University in St. Louis
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
17.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
17.08.2017 | Materials Sciences
17.08.2017 | Materials Sciences