Zhang Receives ONR YIP Award to Develop THz System-on-a-Chip
ECE Assistant Professor Xufeng Zhang was awarded an Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Program Award for “Cryogenically Enabled Ultrabroadband THz System-on-a-Chip.”
Xufeng Zhang, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering (ECE), is developing a small, integrated terahertz (THz) system to harness the frequency’s enormous power in a more usable size. This research has earned him an Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Program Award, one of the nation’s oldest and most selective basic-research, early-career awards in science and technology.
“Because of its ability to ‘see through’ opaque materials from biomolecules to plastics, the THz frequency range has many applications, such as imaging, sensing, and security screening devices,” says Zhang. “However, most devices using THz are bulky, which limits the frequency’s usability. With this award, I am working to build a complete THz system-on-a-chip (SOC) that will have excellent scalability and ultrabroad bandwidth.”
With on-chip signal processing capabilities including THz generation, routing, manipulation, and detection, THz SOCs could have a wide range of practical applications worldwide, including quantum network and wireless communication for 6G and 7G networks. The higher frequency means faster data rates.
The higher frequency also correlates more expensive technology. To mitigate this, Zhang and his team will explore the frequency’s range from 0.1–1 THz to create more efficient and cost-effective technologies for future uses.
For this project, Zhang is collaborating with others at Northeastern, including Josep M. Jornet, associate professor, ECE, who is a pioneer in the field of THz and high-frequency wireless communications, and Dr. Dafei Jin from the University of Notre Dame, who is an expert on low-temperature physics and devices. Zhang will also work closely with researchers at the Institute for the Wireless Internet of Things, which includes facilities such as the TeraNova platform, the world’s first integrated testbed for ultrabroadband communication networks in the THz band.
The THz SOC will be based on silicon—a popular and common material—so if Zhang’s technology is successful, it can easily be integrated from both the production and application perspective. Zhang’s project represents a critical and indispensable step towards closing the THz gap and has the potential to reshape the future of THz research.
Zhang is one of only 25 researchers to share nearly $17.5 million in funding to conduct innovative scientific research that will benefit science and technology for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.
Abstract Summary: Because of the unique properties of terahertz (THz) waves, THz technologies have been long recognized for their great potentials in many aspects of our daily lives. However, tremendous technical challenges have made it extremely difficult to fully exploit this frequency band of the electromagnetic spectrum. Despite various recent attempts, most existing THz systems nowadays are restricted to assemblies of discrete components, which are usually cumbersome and expensive, and, in some cases, have unsatisfying performances. This has been one of the major obstacles that severely hinder the broader application of THz technologies. To tackle this grand challenge, this project aims to develop a novel THz system-on-a-chip (SOC) by taking advantage of recent advancements in silicon photonics, superconducting devices, and THz instrumentation. The THz SOC to be developed will have excellent scalability and ultrabroad bandwidth. With its comprehensive on-chip signal processing capabilities including THz generation, routing, manipulation, and detection, such novel THz SOCs will be highly suitable for a broad range of practical applications such as THz wireless communication and sensing without requiring any off-chip components. This project represents a critical and indispensable step towards closing the THz gap and has the potential to reshape the future of THz research.