Researchers Develop Powerful mmWave Signal Generator that could Revolutionize Wireless Communication

Imagine this, your doctor waves a hand-held scanner over your body and gets detailed, high-resolution images of your internal organs and tissues. Using the same device, the physician then sends gigabytes of data instantly to a remote server and just as rapidly receives information to make a diagnosis. Integrated circuit researchers at the University of California, Irvine have created a silicon microchip-based component that could make this a reality.

Known as a “radiator,” the tiny gadget emits millimeter-wave signals in the G band (110 to 300 GHz). Waves of this frequency easily penetrate solid surfaces and provide extremely sharp resolution, enabling new, more effective methods of biomedical and security scanning and imaging. The chips also can perform a key role in point-to-point wireless communication.

The UCI engineers who created the technology said that tests in the lab have shown it to have the highest power and efficiency ever recorded in such a radiating element while exhibiting the lowest noise (interference from other sources of radiation).

Through a process of trial and error, UCI professor of electrical engineering & computer science Payam Heydari, lead investigator on the project and members of his UCI lab invented a tool that performs three crucial functions. It combines power from multiple amplifiers; it modulates that signal to a desired frequency setting; and it radiates it out in waves that are used to see, sense or communicate.

Peyman Nazari, a graduate student, designed the device as an octagonal semiconductor chip with a unique cavity structure that allows for the emission of circularly polarized radiation. Most transmitters now generate linearly polarized signals, which can get “lost” when antennas and receivers are out of alignment. Emissions from one of the UCI radiators, if you could see them, would appear as tiny spinning tornados. Beams of this shape are particularly effective at penetrating solid objects and providing detailed pictures of what’s inside.

This invention will be particularly beneficial in biomedical applications, as it will give doctors a way to differentiate tumor masses from healthy tissue. It could also be used in genomic research, equipping scientists with an instrument that can be so precisely tuned as to enable the excitation, or lighting up, of individual proteins.

This new radiator can do a lot more than facilitate scanning and imaging. It could be the key that unlocks millimeter-wave transmission as part of the 5G wireless standard now in development. In addition, the tiny yet powerful chips can be embedded virtually anywhere. The internet of things will rely heavily on machines, buildings and other infrastructure being equipped with sensors and antennae. Driverless vehicles will only be possible if cars and trucks can detect each other.