Posted in | Graphene

Creating Internet of Nano-Things by Exploiting Terahertz Waves Using Tiny Graphene Radios

The image, above, shows graphene-based nanoantennas (blue and red dots) on a chip. Credit: University at Buffalo.

Generally, individuals take the same congested path for wireless communication, a section of the electromagnetic spectrum called radio waves.

Progress in the field of telecommunication has made this path more efficient. However, there are persistent bandwidth challenges as wireless devices proliferate, and the demand for data increases. The terahertz band, which is a largely unexploited area of the electromagnetic spectrum, could be the solution for such challenges.

For wireless communication, the terahertz band is like an express lane. But there’s a problem: there are no entrance ramps.

Josep Jornet, PhD, Assistant Professor, University at Buffalo (UB)

Jornet is the principal investigator of a $624,497, three-year grant from the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research to help develop a wireless communication network using the terahertz band. Jonathan Bird, PhD, professor of electrical engineering, and Erik Einarsson, PhD, assistant professor of electrical engineering, both at UB, are the co-principal investigators of this study.

Their research revolves around the development of extremely small radios that are fabricated with semiconducting materials and graphene. The radios enable high-speed, short-range communication.

The technology could eventually reduce the time taken to complete complex tasks, such as the transfer of files from one computer to another, from many hours to a few seconds. Other prospective applications cover nanosensors positioned in polluted waterways, on older bridges, and other public locations to ensure ultra-high-definition streaming, as well as implantable body nanosensors to monitor at-risk or sick people.

Such applications are examples of the purported Internet of Nano-Things, a variant of the commonly known Internet of Things, where conventional objects are secured to the cloud through microprocessors, sensors, and other technology.

We’ll be able to create highly accurate, detailed and timely maps of what’s happening within a given system. The technology has applications in health care, agriculture, energy efficiency - basically anything you want more data on.

Josep Jornet, PhD, Assistant Professor, University at Buffalo (UB)

The Untapped Potential of Terahertz Waves

The terahertz spectrum is sandwiched between the light waves (fiber optic cables, remote controls, and more) and radio waves (section of the electromagnetic spectrum including radar, AM radio, and smartphones) but in comparison, it is hardly used.

Over long distances terahertz waves cannot retain power density. In 2009, Jornet, as a graduate student researching under Ian Akyildiz, PhD, Ken Byers Chair Professor in Telecommunications at Georgia Tech, started to analyze the ability of graphene-based radios to help to overcome this drawback.

Graphene is a two-dimensional sheet made of carbon that is not only light, thin, and extremely strong but it also possesses tantalizing electronic properties. When compared to silicon, electrons move 50-500 times faster in graphene.

Researchers working on earlier studies showed that when joined with semiconducting materials such as indium gallium arsenide, very minute antennas made of graphene strips, with a width of 10 - 100 nm and a length of 1mm, can receive and transmit terahertz waves at wireless speeds of >1 terabit per second.

However, to enable the commercial production of these radios, other electronic components, such as detectors and generators that are able to work in the same environment must be incorporated in the antennas. This is the research that has the attention of Jornet and his collaborators.

Jornet explained that thousands, or perhaps millions, of these radios working together in an array can ensure that the terahertz waves travel further distances. To create an Internet of Nano-Things, the nanosensors can be embedded into chips and other electronic components and into physical objects such as street signs and walls.

The possibilities are limitless.

Josep Jornet, PhD, Assistant Professor, University at Buffalo (UB)

Jornet is a member of the Signals, Communications and Networks research team at UB’s Department of Electrical Engineering. Bird and Einarsson work in the Solid State Electronics research team in the same department.

The research explained here is an example of the department’s plan of action to recruit faculty members with appreciable expertise driving the convergence of fundamental research areas while educating students and also developing new technologies.

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