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Research & Development New Terahertz Center to focus on 6G and state-of-the-art radars

Rainer Klose

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A Terahertz Science Center (THzIZ) being built at the University of Duisburg-Essen. The center which will be finances by German and EU funds is estimated to cost about 6.5 million Euros will be the first of its kind in Germany. Experts in high-frequency radio waves aim to develop solutions for 6G-THz communication at the center. In an interview, Prof. Dr. Nils Weimann explained the project’s roadmap.

The University of Duisburg Essen is already researching 6G terahertz communication. The university will get over 6.5 million euros from German and EU funds to be able to conduct further reseatrch.
The University of Duisburg Essen is already researching 6G terahertz communication. The university will get over 6.5 million euros from German and EU funds to be able to conduct further reseatrch.
(Bild: Gerd Altmann / Pixabay)

While most consumers, businesspeople, and politicians are still discussing the rollout of 5G. The scientists at University of Duisburg-Essen (UDE) are already one step further, researching how high-frequency technologies can look the day after tomorrow. Some of the areas that they focus on are 6G Terahertz communication with more than 100 Gigabit/s data rates, state-of-the-art radar systems, and applications suitable for everyday use such as precise and reliable environment detection for robots and autonomous vehicles.

The UDE is now building a Terahertz Science Centre (THzIZ) to develop its high-frequency solutions for the future. The state of North Rhine-Westphalia and the European Union are providing more than 6.5 million euros for the new production facilities and equipment. The main part of the funding comes from the NRW Research Infrastructures program and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). The THzIZ is set up and coordinated by Professors Dr. Nils Weimann, Dr. Andreas Stöhr, Dr. Daniel Erni, and Dr. Thomas Kaiser.

"The fast waves have huge potential"

Weimann is convinced of that the terahertz technology has huge potential:

"It can transmit several hundred gigabits per second."

The technology is suitable for determining the position of objects with high precision while simultaneously analyzing their chemical composition.

"In medical technology, terahertz radiation, which is harmless to humans, could help researchers working with skin cancer," explains Weimann.

The medical application areas of THz sensors are many. The technology can, for example, also be used to analyze patient’s breathing capabilities or to scan the sole of a person’s foot to detect signs of that the person is suffering from diabetes.

The company is currently not capable of manufacturing new systems on an industrial scale at a low cost. However, this is predicted to change soon:

"With the new terahertz science center, we can take our research to the next level fast and develop innovative terahertz modules for mobile and everyday applications in a relative short time," Weimann is pleased to report.

Chip-Based Radar Sensor Technology for Shape and Environment Detection

Already today, novel electronic and optoelectronic THz semiconductor chips are being designed at the UDE. This is done, for example, at the MARIE Collaborative Research Centre. The UDE have several exciting projects in the starting blocks. The university recently set up the "ForLab smartBeam" laboratory at the Center for Semiconductor Technology and Optoelectronics (ZHO). In this laboratory scientists will research and develop solutions for precise and reliable environment detection for robots and autonomous vehicles. The 6.5 million euros grant will provide the ZHO with additional state-of-the-art production facilities and measuring equipment.

Wie genau der Aufbau des THzIZ geplant ist, erklärt Prof. Dr. Nils Weimann auf Nachfrage von ELEKTRONIKPRAXIS noch einmal im Detail.

Prof. Dr. Nils Weimann explains in detail how the construction plans for the THzIZ look.

When will the construction of the IZ begin and how long will it take?

The NRW/EFRE investment program started already in September this year. Over the coming three years new process equipment, special software packages, high-performance computers, and measuring instruments will be procured to research and develop terahertz modules at the center.

How will the IZ be structured and organized? Will there be several locations?

Four departments in the Department of Electrical Engineering at the UDE are supporting the construction of the THzIZ. BHE under my leadership, the OE under Prof. Dr. Andreas Stöhr, ATE under Prof. Dr. Daniel Erni, and DSV under Prof. Dr. Thomas Kaiser are all equally invested in the project.

Our goal is to work carry out joint research projects together with industrial partners. Most of our equipment will be installed in our sterilized room and the measuring laboratories in the UDE's Center for Semiconductor Technology Optoelectronics. Some systems will be installed in ATE’ and DSV’ rooms, too.

When is the integration center expected to start operating?

The procurement, installation, and commissioning of the systems and computer technology has already begun. In the comming three years, a total of six parallel research projects will be undertaken in the four participating fields to investigate electronic and optoelectronic THz components, THz antennas, hybrid assembly technology––i.e. heterogeneous integration of different semiconductor materials––and THz measurement technology. In these projects, the first processes and procedures for the new facilities are being developed. At the end of the three-year build-up phase, we aim to start collaborative projects with industrial and institutional partners that are using these technologies in their day-to-day.

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Is there a frequency limit over which you can’t research the IZ? Are their plans to expand the area in the future?

Now, we can measure chips "on-wafer" up to 110 GHz. We can work with up to 300 GHz in free jet coupling. In the coming years, we’ll be able to carry out THz channel measurements will at up to 1,500 GHz (1.5 THz) as a part of the BMBF investment program ForLab SmartBeam. We’ll also expand the on-wafer and free-beam component measurement to 750 GHz in the future as a part of the THzIZ investments. The measurements are performed in frequency bands that are coupled to the standardized waveguide geometries. At least one frequency mixer is required for each frequency band.

How many students and staff are expected to work there?

Over 30 doctoral students and postdocs focusing on terahertz will be working here. They’ll be divided in four areas, each headed by a chair holder. Thereto, approximately 40 master and bachelor students will carry out projects here each year. They will be supported by 15 technicians. The THzIZ project has created three full-time positions for three years each.

Are there already concrete examples of THz RF components developed at the UDE??

There are already functioning transmitting and receiving diodes based on electronic principles and fast optoelectronic photodiodes. One concrete example is the indium phosphide tunnel diode with integrated antenna and the indium phosphide photodiode. Both operate at carrier frequencies around 300 GHz. With opto-electronically generated signals, 100 GBit/s can already now be transmitted wirelessly at this frequency via a test track. In the next stage, we are aiming for a carrier frequency of 450 GHz

This article was first published in German by Elektronik Praxis.