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31 October 2014

Northrop Grumman sets record with terahertz IC amplifier

Northrop Grumman Corp of Redondo Beach, CA, USA has developed the world's fastest integrated circuit amplifier, which has been recognized by Guinness World Records. The amplifier uses 10 transistor stages to reach an operating frequency of 1 trillion cycles per second (1 terahertz, or 1012Hz) — surpassing the firm’s own record of 850 billion cycles per second (850GHz) set in 2012.

Researchers have long sought to exploit the terahertz high-frequency band lying between microwaves and infrared light waves in the electromagnetic spectrum, but have been unable to detect, process and radiate the necessary high-frequency signals without resorting to frequency translation or multiplication (hence the term ‘terahertz gap’).

Northrop Grumman’s terahertz monolithic integrated circuit (TMIC) effectively bridges the gap by using a super-scaled 25nm gate-length indium phosphide (InP) high-electron-mobility transistor (HEMT) that measures at a gain of 10dB at 1THz and 9dB at 1.03THz. In comparison, existing smartphones operate at 1-2GHz and wireless networks at 5.7GHz.

The circuit is the culmination of the firm’s three-phase contract with the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to demonstrate transistor-based electronics operating at 670GHz, 850GHz and 1THz. All three milestones were completed by Northrop Grumman within five years.

Philip Robertson (center), representing Guinness World Records, presents the certificate for the fastest integrated circuit amplifier to (from left): Dr Dale Burton, sector VP & chief technology officer Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems; DARPA director Dr Arati Prabhakar; DARPA’s Terahertz Electronics program manager Dr Dev Palmer; and Northrop Grumman’s Terahertz Electronics program manager Dr William Deal.

Picture: Philip Robertson (center), representing Guinness World Records, presents the certificate for the fastest integrated circuit amplifier to (from left): Dr Dale Burton, sector VP & chief technology officer Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems; DARPA director Dr Arati Prabhakar; DARPA’s Terahertz Electronics program manager Dr Dev Palmer; and Northrop Grumman’s Terahertz Electronics program manager Dr William Deal.

“This breakthrough by the Northrop Grumman team 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,” comments DARPA’s Terahertz Electronics program manager Dr Dev Palmer.

Additional applications of the THz circuit could include atmospheric sensing, radio astronomy and medical imaging. It is also expected to improve system range, and to reduce the size, weight and power consumption of existing systems.

“A decade ago, there was no consensus in the scientific community whether an integrated circuit operating at 1 terahertz was technologically possible,” says Northrop Grumman’s Terahertz Electronics program manager Dr William Deal. “An interdisciplinary team of scientists and engineers worked together in scaling all facets of our MMIC technology to enable this result,” he adds. “Now, as a result of DARPA’s investment in high-speed transistor processes, it will become routine to fabricate wafers containing thousands of terahertz integrated circuits.”

DARPA has made strategic investments in terahertz electronics through its High Frequency Integrated Vacuum Electronics (HiFIVE), Sub-millimeter Wave Imaging Focal Plane Technology (SWIFT) and Technology for Frequency Agile Digitally Synthesized Transmitters (TFAST) programs. Each program built on the successes of the previous program, providing the foundational research necessary for frequencies to reach the terahertz threshold. Northrop Grumman has partnered with DARPA on each program.

See related items:

Northrop Grumman demos record 850GHz integrated receiver

Frequency record for integrated circuits doubled to 0.67 terahertz

Tags: Northrop Grumman InP HEMT

Visit: www.northropgrumman.com/mps

Visit: www.darpa.mil

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