High-quality microwave signals generated from tiny photonic chip

High-quality microwave signals generated from tiny photonic chip

Technology News |
By Wisse Hettinga

In a new Nature study, Columbia Engineering researchers have built a photonic chip that is able to produce high-quality, ultra-low-noise microwave signals using only a single laser

From the report:

The compact device—a chip so small, it could fit on a sharp pencil point—results in the lowest microwave noise ever observed in an integrated photonics platform.

The achievement provides a promising pathway towards small-footprint ultra-low-noise microwave generation for applications such as high-speed communication, atomic clocks, and autonomous vehicles.

Electronic devices for global navigation, wireless communications, radar, and precision timing need stable microwave sources to serve as clocks and information carriers. A key aspect to increasing the performance of these devices is reducing the noise, or random fluctuations in phase, that is present on the microwave.

“In the past decade, a technique known as optical frequency division has resulted in the lowest noise microwave signals that have been generated to date,” said Alexander Gaeta, David M. Rickey Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science and professor of electrical engineering at Columbia Engineering. “Typically, such a system requires multiple lasers and a relatively large volume to contain all the components.”

Optical frequency division—a method of converting a high-frequency signal to a lower frequency—is a recent innovation for generating microwaves in which the noise has been strongly suppressed. However, a large table-top-level footprint prevents such systems from being leveraged for miniaturized sensing and communication applications that demand more compact microwave sources and are broadly adopted.

“We have realized a device that is able to perform optical frequency division entirely on a chip in an area as small as 1 mm2 using only a single laser,” said Gaeta. “We demonstrate for the first time the process of optical frequency division without the need for electronics, greatly simplifying the device design.”

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