10 MHz to 1.1 THz Vector Network Analyser

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: Electronic, Electrical and Computer Eng


The low THz band of the electromagnetic spectrum covers frequencies from around 100 GHz to around 1 THz. In terms of wavelengths, this corresponds to 3 mm down to 0.3 mm, in between the radio and optical ranges. This creates a special set of application opportunities and engineering problems, making this band a specialism in its own right. At Birmingham University, we are already working on potential future applications of this band, including short range exceptionally broad bandwidth communications, tiny high resolution radar systems for moving platforms such as autonomous vehicles, novel sensors based on atomic and molecular quantum states, and artificial metamaterials that allow shielding from electromagnetic waves and new forms of antennas. In this project we are establishing an advanced measurement facility that will enable researchers to test and characterise novel low THz devices and systems. The vector network analyser measures scattering parameters throughout this band of interest.

Scattering parameters represent the transmission and reflection of THz waves through and from multiple port circuits and transmission media. They enable researchers to test their novel component designs precisely against the theoretical performance predicted by a simulator. This is very important in the low THz bands, because the sensitivity to random surface roughness and slight structural misalignment in electronic components is very high. Scattering parameter measurements also enable researchers to evaluate the electromagnetic properties of new materials, to test new forms of sensors and to characterise the transmission of electromagnetic waves through antennas and propagation media.

The measurement and use of scattering parameters at lower frequencies, in the microwave bands, is common practice, but in the low THz bands it requires highly specialised equipment to generate the high frequency oscillations with the required frequency and phase accuracy, by multiplying up the output frequency of a lower frequency vector network analyser (VNA) before transmission, and converting the resulting reflected or transmitted received THz signals back down to the lower frequency.

This project will involve procuring and setting up the VNA and multiplier/downconverter heads, and making this equipment available to researchers in Birmingham University and in the wider academic community and in industry, to encourage and facilitate research and development of systems and components designed to exploit a currently almost unused range of frequencies.

Planned Impact

Continued growth is predicted in demand for the internet, including the emerging Internet of Things, in demand for high data rate communications and high resolution sensing systems. Exploitation of the THz frequency spectrum will contribute to meeting this demand, because THz communications offers very high bandwidth and THz sensors can provide high resolution images, even in bad weather or environmental conditions.

The availability of the equipment proposed here will impact strongly on UK (and European) Industry, and ultimately the customers and society that they serve. The impacts will be both direct, as industrial companies become users of the equipment on their own projects, and indirect, as the flow of innovative technologies based on increased academic research in THz technology, leads to new communication and sensing products. Examples include the potential industrially based beneficiaries that have provided letters of support, all anticipating future requirements for using the equipment at Birmingham, which are included in the attached documents

Jaguar Land Rover particularly note the importance of supporting THz technology in the UK, in the context of strong competition from EU automotive companies. They also point out the route by which adoption of new automotive sensing technology flows, from the luxury car market where it originates, to the volume market, spreading the societal benefits (eg in road safety, fuel efficiency and capacity) more widely.

NEC Europe Ltd point out the need for research in the low THz bands to serve growing demands for communications capacity, both in channel characterisation and component development. They envisage NEC and other members of the ETSI mWT ISG using the Birmingham facility and supporting others to do so for this purpose.

The National Physical Laboratory (NPL) is fully supportive of the bid, envisaging a significant increase in research activities in this field, and pointing out the benefits for the quality and impact of UK research.

QinetiQ points out the benefits in terms of UK competiveness in both commercial and military equipment.

The equipment will impact directly on the several existing research projects at Birmingham and will therefore enhance their impacts.

The TRAVEL grant (EP/L019078/1) has partners BAE Systems, Thales, JLR and two SME RF device manufacturers (L3-TRL Technology and Elite Antennas), and will strongly impact future automotive radar technology.
Micromachined Circuits for Terahertz Communications (EP/M016269/1) also has BAE Systems as a partner and a further three RF device manufacturers (Plextek, Farran Technology and Teratech Components). The latter grant, looking at the design, construction and testing of a communications system at 300 GHz, is also with Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and the Fraunhofer institute, Germany. Sponsors of the Quantum Hub include e2v, DSTL and Msquared Lasers. Particular applications for new communications devices are communication systems (naturally), radar and sensing scenarios, space and metrology. Successful micromachining of electronic circuits at frequencies over 300GHz has been demonstrated at The University of Birmingham. As an example, prototype hollow waveguide tube-based resonant cavities using a new interconnect principle to link Schottky diodes and transistors have been produced.
PATHCAD (EP/N012372/1), in which next generation 300GHz to 1THz radar sensors will be used as part of an intelligent imaging system, which will greatly benefit from use of the VNA, will impact strongly on the development of future autonomous vehicles and other platforms.
Description The facility has been used in a range of material and device measurements in projects inside and outside of the University of Birmingham. The projects all aim to exploit or create new applications of the mm-wave to low -THz band of the electromagnetic spectrum. Internal projects have included measurements of the transmission of electromagnetic radiation through structures and potential contaminants relating to low-THz automotive radar, such as layers of leaves, and car bumper materials. One of the key differences between low-THz radars and more conventional lower frequency radars, is the appearance of backscattering from rough surfaces. This effect has been demonstrated and characterised by studying backscattering from sandpapers with varying degrees of surface roughness.
Exploitation Route We continue to work with external and internal users of the facility, and to seek new users. There are applications in 6G+ communications, security, imaging radar and inspection systems for advanced manufacturing. Future potential developments of the equipment include a quasi-optical system for imaging of medical samples.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Electronics,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology,Transport

URL https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/activity/eese/communications-sensing/terahertz-measurement-facility/terahertz-measurement-facility.aspx
Description The facility allows external users from industry to access sub-THz measurements for their product development.
First Year Of Impact 2021
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Electronics
Impact Types Economic

Description (NOCTURNO) - Non-Conventional Wave Propagation for Future Sensing and Actuating Technologies
Amount € 580,500 (EUR)
Funding ID 777714 
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 01/2018 
End 12/2021
Description Anisotropic Microwave/Terahertz Metamaterials for Satellite Applications (ANISAT)
Amount £534,704 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/S030794/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2020 
End 09/2023
Description CORTEX
Amount £3,400,000 (GBP)
Organisation Jaguar Land Rover Automotive PLC 
Department Jaguar Land Rover
Sector Private
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2019 
End 08/2021
Description International Exchanges 2019 Cost Share (NSFC)
Amount £1,200 (GBP)
Organisation The Royal Society 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2020 
End 03/2022
Description Millimeter-wave Antennas and Components for Future Mobile Broadband Networks (MILLIBAN)
Amount £743,439 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/P008380/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2017 
End 04/2020
Description Multi-functional metamaterials and antennas for RF/Microwave communication and sensing devices
Amount £501,567 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/S007903/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2019 
End 01/2022
Description Royal Society International Exchanges Scheme 2018/R3
Amount £1,200 (GBP)
Organisation The Royal Society 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2019 
End 02/2023
Description Sub-THz Radar sensing of the Environment for future Autonomous Marine platforms - STREAM
Amount £854,174 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/S033238/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2019 
End 12/2022
Description Terahertz Lab-on-a-Chip for Bio-liquid Analysis
Amount £315,377 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/V001655/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2020 
End 07/2022
Description Towards a 3D printed terahertz circuit technology.
Amount £616,521 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/S013113/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2019 
End 06/2022
Description Traceability for electrical measurements at millimetre-wave and terahertz frequencies for communications and electronics technologies
Amount £10,000 (GBP)
Funding ID TEMMT, Project Number: 18SIB09 
Organisation European Association of National Metrology Institutes (EURAMET) 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country Germany
Start 04/2019 
End 04/2022
Title A low THz Vector Network Analyser facility 
Description In fulfilment of the objectives of the grant, we hav established a vector netwok analyser facility which can cover frequencies from 10 MHz to 1.1 THz, within a laboratory environment that facilitates scattering parameter measurements on waveguide based components, antenna measurements and measurement through material samples. It is unique within the UK research community for its comprehensive frequency coverage and its flexible configuration. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The facility has only recently been established. To date the most notable results are those at the highest frequency ranges, characterising the attenuation through leaves, but these are at an earlt stage yet in terms of publication and impact. 
URL https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/activity/eese/communications-sensing/terahertz-measurement-fac...
Description Collaboration with Flann Microwave Ltd 
Organisation Flann Microwave Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We provide a potentially new manufacture solution to some of the company's products.
Collaborator Contribution The company provides the industry perspective in terms of applications and products of interest and some insightful design tips.
Impact Joint publication; Potentially a bid for the IAA scheme.
Start Year 2021
Description Collaboration with Lancaster University 
Organisation Lancaster University
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We provide metrological support for terahertz projects at the University of Lancaster
Collaborator Contribution Partners develop devices in the terahertz range
Impact The results of the collaboration are in the process of formalization and will be presented in the publications of the University of Lancaster
Start Year 2021