Programmable Microwave Hardware Based on Liquid Wires (PROGRAMMABLE)

Lead Research Organisation: Queen Mary, University of London
Department Name: Sch of Electronic Eng & Computer Science


The term microwave is used in reference to electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths ranging from about one meter to one millimetre. In the electromagnetic spectrum microwave wavelengths are shorter than those of radio waves but longer than those of infrared waves. Microwaves are used extensively in modern communication systems, including: mobile networks, WiFi, GPS, satellite TV, etc.. Other applications, include: heating, radar, imaging, etc.. The number of applications for microwaves is increasing due to the increasing use of electronic devices and the convenience of communication without wires. In the future microwaves will be used in 5G mobile networks, which will see the introduction of a multitude of new devices, all relying on communication via wireless signals. Those new devices and applications include: driverless cars, remote surgery, virtual reality, internet of things, etc..

Today most of the components within a system, operating at microwave frequencies, are designed specifically for that particular application. This increases the cost, and time required to bring a new product to market. In turn, this impacts the price which consumers pay for goods and services e.g. mobile handsets. In this research we ask the question; what if a communication system could be assembled from a collection of standardised bricks in just the same way that anything can be constructed from standard Lego(TM) bricks? Then the design task would reduce to that of devising and designing a suitable set of bricks with which to create a range of different systems. To some extent this already happens; for example, companies produce a range of frequency selective filters having different specifications, and one can select a filter for a particular application. However, the enormous variety of different systems means that a large number of different variations are required. So a huge amount of design effort is still required. In this research we consider what would happen if, we could devise a generic Lego(TM) brick that would assume different sizes and forms. This would enable us to construct any system from a collection of this single almost magical Lego(TM) brick. If this could be achieved the task of designing a complex microwave system, such as the radio within a mobile handset, would merely involve deciding how to assemble a collection of these "magic" Lego(TM) bricks to create the required system. The idea, although attractive, sounds like a fantasy because from our everyday experience we "know" that no object cannot mutate to assume any form and then hold that form, at will. Surely, such a concept is pure science fiction and the stuff of movies like the terminator... Well, no in fact it is not, since 2014 researcher have been working intensively on a new and exciting material which behaves in a way very much like the metal seen in the terminator movies. This material is a metal and yet it is also a liquid at room temperature. Excitingly it can be caused to move under direct electrical control and to hold its shape, at will. In this research we plan to use that material to a create this "magic" Lego(TM) brick which behaves as a universal microwave component. Being made from liquid the component can be flowed into different sizes and forms and thus we obtain 'liquid wires'. To create larger systems, we will simply need to decide how to join the bricks together so that they can operate in unison to perform more complex functions.

Our research is highly interdisciplinary in nature and will benefit the U.K. economy across a wide range of different areas, including: chemistry, materials science, and engineering. The technology could revolutionise the way that communications systems are designed and built, resulting in entire new industries.


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