Three of the UK’s Russell Group universities are joining together to unlock the underused and unchartered terahertz (THz) region of the electromagnetic spectrum. The universities describe the THz region, sometimes known as the submillimeter band which stretches from 300GHz-3,000GHz, as the last unexploited part of the airwaves.
UCL, Cambridge and Leeds Universities are pioneering research through a project called COTS (Coherent Terahertz Systems), funded by a £6.5m Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) grant.
Lying between radio and optical frequencies, the bandwidth available is some 30 times greater than the entire allocated radio spectrum. Within 10 years it is expected there will be widespread applications using THz ranging from ultra-broadband wireless technology for indoor ‘super Wi-Fi’ to THz sensing and imaging systems in production control, security and medical applications.
The UK has pioneered the exploitation of the THz spectrum through companies such as Teraview, and is well placed to exploit the outcomes from this Programme to benefit the UK economy.
Dr Don Arnone, CEO of Teraview, who will give a keynote speech today (16 July 2013) in Cambridge at a gathering of THz academics and industry leaders, said: ‘The COTS research programme will help the UK to maintain pre-eminence in THz research and exploit it to establish UK leadership in wireless communications, in quantum information processing and in advanced imaging technology, especially for biomedicine. We are delighted to be working in collaboration with the world leading COTS researchers.’
The main reason why this resource has been so little used so far is the complexity, bulk, high power consumption and lack of coherence of current THz technologies. The COTS programme brings together the world leading teams that have pioneered THz quantum cascade lasers, microwave photonics and THz quantum state control to open up the THz spectrum for widespread scientific and commercial application, through the use for the first time of photonics-enabled coherent techniques.
The team meet in Cambridge today and have invited academics and industry leaders from across the UK to discuss their research findings so far and plans to set up a UK THz research network.
Principal Investigator for the programme, Professor Alwyn Seeds, Head of the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering at UCL, said: ‘This programme will enable us to address the THz spectrum with the same precision and sensitivity as is today possible at radio frequencies, leading to this underused part of the electromagnetic spectrum finally achieving its full scientific and commercial potential.’
One of the main difficulties in exploiting the THz spectrum is overcoming the effects of atmosphere and bad weather. Sending THz signals short distances of 10m or less is relatively easy. Beyond that, no matter how much the signal is boosted, very little signal gets through at ground level (submillimeter bands are exploited in space where they are working in a near vacuum).