Tuesday, February 21, 2012

SRC and UT Dallas show manufacturability of affordable terahertz receiver

ISSCC 2012, RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, USA: Semiconductor Research Corp. (SRC), the world's leading university-research consortium for semiconductors and related technologies, and UT Dallas announced research results that show circuits operating at the terahertz (THz) range can be affordably manufactured in complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) silicon. The findings set the stage for new industry segments that create electronic applications not yet available for everyday use and that offer portability and cost effectiveness.

On the spectrum of wavelengths, THz waves occur at the far end of the infrared band, just above the millimeter waveband. Compared to other wavelengths, THz are considered to have numerous desirable properties. For instance, in contrast with x-ray, THz is intrinsically safe, non-destructive and non-invasive. However, THz was previously impractical for mainstream consumer uses due to cost.

With the breakthrough presented by SRC and UT Dallas, THz circuits can now be manufactured within economical CMOS technologies. As a result, the sensitive THz portion of the spectrum can become accessible for use in everyday products.

A key component of THz systems is a receiver that UT Dallas has shown can be manufactured affordably. Employing Schottky diodes in 130 nanometer (nm) CMOS with higher cut-off frequency than MOS transistors, the new detector’s sensitivity allows reception of signals that are smaller than those previously achieved using MOS transistors in 65nm CMOS. The Schottky diodes can be fabricated without any process modifications.

“Our new technology can take the cost for producing THz systems down from hundreds of thousands of dollars to only a few hundred dollars,” said Professor Ken O, lead researcher for SRC’s program at UT Dallas. “The impact will be huge. The collective chip industry can literally light up a portion of the wavelength spectrum so all can benefit from the applications.”

Multiple communities have expressed interest in leveraging these new THz capabilities, including defense, medical, industrial process control and public and industrial safety.

“The need for THz communications is great, and our progress holds tremendous potential for enhancing the lives of many — both in a preventative and curative nature,” said Betsy Weitzman, SRC executive VP. “The results we have here will broadly enable many opportunities for consumers and the semiconductor industry.”

THz can enable a wide range of uses such as monitoring for toxic molecules in the air, breath analyses for disease diagnostics, imaging cavities without use of the more harmful x-rays, imaging cancerous cells, controlling industrial processes and conducting remote high resolution imaging and high bandwidth communication. Until now, there has been no economical way to make the systems that can support these applications.

“SRC supports a comprehensive THz research effort through various programs, and advances from the projects will impact the electronics industry over the next decade,” said Dale Edwards, a GLOBALFOUNDRIES assignee at SRC.

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