New terahertz source operates at room temperature

Researchers have developed a compact, room-temperature terahertz source with an output power of 215 microwatts, an advance that could have practical applications in a range of imaging and inspection processes.

Terahertz (THz) radiation has applications in security screening, medical and industrial imaging, agricultural inspection, astronomical research, and other areas.

Traditional methods of generating terahertz radiation, however, usually involve large and expensive instruments, some of which also require cryogenic cooling.

A compact terahertz source – similar to the laser diode found in a DVD player – operating at room temperature with high power has been a goal of the terahertz community for a number of years.

Manijeh Razeghi, Walter P. Murphy Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, and her group are said to be close to achieving this goal.

According to the university, terahertz radiation is generated through non-linear mixing of two mid-infrared wavelengths at 9.3 microns and 10.4 microns inside a single quantum cascade laser.

By stacking two different QCL emitters in a single laser, the researchers created a monolithic non-linear mixer to convert the mid-infrared signals into terahertz radiation, using a process called difference frequency generation.

The size is similar to standard laser diode, and a wide spectral range has already been demonstrated (1 to 4.6THz).

‘Using a room-temperature mid-infrared laser to generate terahertz light bypasses the temperature barrier, and all we need to do is to make the output power high enough for practical applications,” Razeghi said in a statement.

‘Most applications require a minimum of microwatt power levels, but, of course, the higher the better.’

The achieved output power of 215 microwatts is more than three times higher than earlier demonstrations. This boost is due to a number of novelties, including Cherenkov phase matching, epilayer down mounting, symmetric current injection, and anti-reflection coating. 

The researchers will now work to achieve continuous wave operation and incorporate tuning in the device.

Razeghi was scheduled to present the research on October 7 at the International Conference and Exhibition on Lasers, Optics & Photonics in San Antonio, and also at the European Cooperation in Science and Technology conference in Sheffield, England on October 10.

The findings were published July 1 in the journal Applied Physics Letters and was presented at the SPIE Optics + Photonics conference in August in San Diego.

This research at Northwestern is supported by the US National Science Foundation (NSF) and NASA.