European recognition for terahertz expertise

20 January 2010

Research into terahertz technology at the University of Leeds has received a major boost with a €2.5 million European grant

Research into terahertz technology at the University of Leeds has received a major boost with a €2.5 million European grant.

The award, an Advanced Investigator Grant from the European Research Council, is in recognition of outstanding work in the field by Professor of Terahertz Electronics, Edmund Linfield. It is one of 105 projects selected across Europe out of 736 applicants in physical sciences and engineering.

Professor Linfield will use the funding to study the fundamental science and the potential applications of terahertz quantum cascade lasers. Quantum cascade lasers are small, potentially portable, sources of radiation in the terahertz frequency range of the electromagnetic spectrum.

"The potential uses for terahertz technology are wide-ranging, but are currently limited to niche applications in fields such as pharmaceutical analysis and astronomy, as most systems on the market are expensive and physically large," explained Professor Linfield. "The availability of cheap, compact systems would open up a wide range of opportunities in fields including industrial process monitoring, security screening, atmospheric science, and medicine."

The prestigious Advanced Investigator Grant award scheme is aimed at supporting the very best established research leaders to carry out pioneering work in their field. Leeds has had increasing success in the scheme, now in its second year. Professor Linfield's grant follows an award in 2009 to Professor Giles Davies (also from the School of Electronic & Electrical Engineering) and is one of two made to the University in 2010.

The School has one of the world's leading research groups in terahertz technology and one of the largest university facilities for terahertz research internationally. It is also one of only a very small number of laboratories in the world to grow terahertz quantum cascade lasers, using a technique known as molecular beam epitaxy (MBE). The School's MBE system (costing around £1m), and Professor Linfield's team's expertise in using it, will underpin the research funded through this European grant.

MBE is a technique that allows single crystals to be grown in which the layer composition is changed atomic monolayer by atomic monolayer. This Advanced Investigator Grant will use MBE to grow layers of the semiconductors GaAs and AlGaAs (doped with Si) at a typical rate of one atomic layer per second. To achieve this, the constituent atoms (e.g. Ga, Al) are evaporated from heated furnaces, and land on a hot, rotating, substrate, with shutters being used to block the furnace from the substrate when a specific material is not required. To avoid any contamination of the growing material, it is essential that ultra-high vacuum conditions are used. Typical background pressures are ~10-11mbar. Terahertz quantum cascade lasers are typically made up of over 1000 individual GaAs/AlGaAs layers, the thickness of each being controlled to atomic monolayer accuracy by MBE.

Professor Linfield is Director of the Institute of Microwaves and Photonics, one of two research institutes within the School of Electronic and Electrical Engineering.

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