Team develops world's most powerful nanoscale microwave oscillators

Jun 26, 2012 By Matthew Chin and Wileen Wong Kromhout
Schematic representation of a spin-transfer nano-oscillator (STNO) with free and pinned magnetic layers (left), and a scanning-electron-microscopy (SEM) image of a cross-section of an STNO (right), showing top and bottom metallic electrodes used for electrical connections. The lateral size of the STNO is about 100nm. (Image courtesy of UCLA Engineering)

(Phys.org) -- A team of UCLA researchers has created the most powerful high-performance nanoscale microwave oscillators in the world, a development that could lead to cheaper, more energy-efficient mobile communication devices that deliver much better signal quality.

Today's cell phones, WiFi–enabled tablets and other electronic gadgets all use microwave oscillators, tiny devices that generate the electrical signals used in communications. In a , for example, the transmitter and receiver circuits contain oscillators that produce radio-frequency signals, which are then converted by the phone's antenna into incoming and outgoing electromagnetic waves.

Current oscillators are silicon-based and use the charge of an electron to create microwaves. The UCLA-developed oscillators, however, utilize the spin of an electron, as in the case of magnetism, and carry several orders-of-magnitude advantages over the oscillators commonly in use today.

UCLA's electron spin–based oscillators grew out of research at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). This research focused on STT-RAM, or spin-transfer torque magnetoresistive random access memory, which has great potential over other types of memory in terms of both speed and power efficiency.

"We realized that the layered nanoscale structures that make STT-RAM such a great candidate for memory could also be developed for microwave oscillators for communications," said principal investigator and research co-author Kang L. Wang, UCLA Engineering's Raytheon Professor of Electrical Engineering and director of the Western Institute of Nanoelectronics (WIN).

The structures, called spin-transfer nano-oscillators, or STNOs, are composed of two distinct magnetic layers. One layer has a fixed magnetic polar direction, while the other layer's magnetic direction can be manipulated to gyrate by passing an electric current through it. This allows the structure to produce very precise oscillating microwaves.

"Previously, there had been no demonstration of a spin-transfer oscillator with sufficiently high output power and simultaneously good , which are the two main metrics of an oscillator — hence preventing practical applications," said co-author Pedram Khalili, project manager for the UCLA–DARPA research programs in STT-RAM and non-volatile logic. "We have realized both these requirements in a single structure."

The SNTO was tested to show a record-high output power of close to 1 micro-watt, with a record narrow signal linewidth of 25 megahertz. refers to the strength of the signal, and 1 micro-watt is the desired level for STNOs to be practical for applications. Also, a narrow signal linewidth corresponds to a higher quality signal at a given frequency. This means less noise and interference, for a cleaner voice and video signal. It also means more users can be accommodated onto a given frequency band.

In addition, the new nanoscale system is about 10,000-times smaller than the silicon-based oscillators used today. The nano-oscillators can easily be incorporated into existing integrated circuits (computer chips), as they are compatible with current design and manufacturing standards in the computer and electronic device industries. And the oscillators can be used in both analog (voice) and digital (data) communications, which means smart phones could take full advantage of them.

"For the past decade, we have been working to realize a new paradigm in nanoelectronics and nanoarchitectures," said Wang, who is also a member of the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA. "This has led to tremendous progress in memory research. And along those same lines, we believe these new STNOs are excellent candidates to succeed today's oscillators."

The paper, "High-Power Coherent Microwave Emission from Magnetic Tunnel Junction Nano-oscillators with Perpendicular Anisotropy," has been published online in the journal ACS Nano.

Other key authors include Hongwen Jiang, UCLA professor of physics and astronomy, and lead author Zhongming Zeng, formerly a postdoctoral scholar in Jiang's laboratory and currently a professor at the Suzhou Institute of Nanotech and Nanobionics, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Explore further: Toward making lithium-sulfur batteries a commercial reality for a bigger energy punch

Related Stories

Recommended for you

For electronics beyond silicon, a new contender emerges

Sep 16, 2014

Silicon has few serious competitors as the material of choice in the electronics industry. Yet transistors, the switchable valves that control the flow of electrons in a circuit, cannot simply keep shrinking ...

Making quantum dots glow brighter

Sep 16, 2014

Researchers from the University of Alabama in Huntsville and the University of Oklahoma have found a new way to control the properties of quantum dots, those tiny chunks of semiconductor material that glow ...

The future face of molecular electronics

Sep 16, 2014

The emerging field of molecular electronics could take our definition of portable to the next level, enabling the construction of tiny circuits from molecular components. In these highly efficient devices, ...

Study sheds new light on why batteries go bad

Sep 14, 2014

A comprehensive look at how tiny particles in a lithium ion battery electrode behave shows that rapid-charging the battery and using it to do high-power, rapidly draining work may not be as damaging as researchers ...

User comments : 4

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Sonhouse
not rated yet Jun 26, 2012
Anyone know what frequency these devices are producing? It mentions the bandwidth of 25 Mhz but not the center frequency. Deliberate?
TkClick
not rated yet Jun 26, 2012
Around 1 GHz I guess from graphs given.. It's apparently record for STNO technology only.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Jun 26, 2012
It's microwaves, so it should be between 0.3 and 300GHz.
tpb
not rated yet Jun 26, 2012
The picture in the abstract shows 8 cycles in 10nS or 1.25GHz.
25MHz linewidth at 1.25GHz is a horrible oscillator.