Graphene may open the gate to future terahertz technologies

September 12th, 2011 in Nanotechnology / Nanophysics

Nestled between radio waves and infrared light is the terahertz (THz) portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. By adding a nanoscale bit of graphene, researchers have found a better way to tune radiation for a THz transmitter.

Researchers from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana have harnessed another one of graphene's remarkable properties to better control a relatively untamed portion of the : the terahertz band.

Terahertz radiation offers tantalizing new opportunities in communications, medical imaging, and chemical detection. Straddling the transition between the highest energy and the lowest energy , terahertz waves are notoriously difficult to produce, detect, and modulate. Modulation, or varying the height of the terahertz waves, is particularly important because a modulated signal can carry information and is more versatile for applications such as chemical and biological sensing. Some of today's most promising terahertz technologies are based on small semiconductor transistor-like structures that are able to modulate a terahertz signal at room temperature, which is a significant advantage over earlier modulators that could only operate at extremely .

Unfortunately, these transistor-like devices rely on a thin layer of metal called a "metal gate" to tune the terahertz signal. This metal gate significantly reduces the signal strength and limits how much the signal can be modulated to a lackluster 30 percent. As reported in the AIP's journal , by replacing the metal gate with a single layer of graphene, the researchers have predicted that the modulation range can be significantly expanded to be in excess of 90 percent. This modulation is controlled by applying a voltage between the graphene and semiconductor. Unlike the metal gate modulator, the graphene design barely diminished the output power of the terahertz energy. Made up of a one-atom-thick sheet of , graphene boasts a host of amazing properties: it's remarkably strong, a superb thermal insulator, a conductor of electricity, and now a better means to modulate terahertz radiation.

More information: “Unique prospects for graphene-based terahertz modulators” by Berardi Sensale-Rodriguez et al. is accepted for publication in Applied Physics Letters.

Provided by American Institute of Physics

"Graphene may open the gate to future terahertz technologies." September 12th, 2011.