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New Power-Free and Ultra-Fast Way of Frequency Tuning Using Functional Nanowires

Scientists from the University of Oxford and the University of Pennsylvania have discovered a power-free and ultra-fast approach to frequency tuning with the help of functional nanowires.

New Power-Free and Ultra-Fast Way of Frequency Tuning Using Functional Nanowires.
Power-free frequency tuner illustration. Image Credit: Utku Emre Ali

The study has been reported in the Nature Communications journal.

Just imagine an orchestra doing warm-up before the performance. The oboe begins to play an ideal A note with a frequency range of 440 Hz while all the other instruments tend to adjust themselves to that frequency.

Telecommunications technology depends on this idea of relating the frequencies of transmitters and receivers. This is possible when both ends of the communication link get tuned in to the same frequency channel.

In the colossal communications networks that are available at present, the potential to reliably synthesize as many frequencies as possible and to quickly swap from one to another is paramount for persistent connectivity.

Vibrating nano strings of chalcogenide glass (germanium telluride) that resonate at predetermined frequencies quite similar to guitar strings have been engineered by researchers at the University of Oxford and the University of Pennsylvania.

For the frequency of these resonators to be tuned, the scientists change the atomic structure of the material, which in turn alters the mechanical stiffness of the material itself.

This varies from present methods that employ mechanical stress on the nano strings in a similar way for tuning a guitar by making use of the tuning pegs. This directly translates into greater power consumption since the pegs are not permanent and need a voltage to hold the tension.

By changing how atoms bond with each other in these glasses, we are able to change the Young’s modulus within a few nanoseconds. Young’s modulus is a measure of stiffness, and it directly affects the frequency at which the nanostrings vibrate.

Utku Emre Ali, University of Oxford

Ali completed the study as part of his doctoral work.

Professor Ritesh Agarwal, School of Engineering and Applied Science, the University of Pennsylvania who collaborated on the study initially found a special mechanism that altered the atomic structure of novel nanomaterials back in 2012.

The idea that our fundamental work could have consequences in such an interesting demonstration more than 10 years down the line is humbling. It’s fascinating to see how this concept extends to mechanical properties and how well it works.

Ritesh Agarwal, Professor, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Pennsylvania

Professor Harish Bhaskaran from the Department of Materials at the University of Oxford, who headed the study, stated, “This study creates a new framework that uses functional materials whose fundamental mechanical property can be changed using an electrical pulse. This is exciting and our hope is that it inspires further development of new materials that are optimized for such applications.”

Furthermore, the engineers evaluated that their method could function a million times more effectively compared to commercial frequency synthesizers while providing tuning that is 10 to 100 times faster.

Such initial outcomes may imply greater data rates with longer-lasting batteries in the future even though enhancing the cyclability rates and the readout methods is crucial for commercialization.

Oxford Research: Power-free frequency tuner

Oxford Research: Power-free frequency tuner. Video Credit: University of Oxford.

Journal Reference:

Ali, U. E., et al. (2022) Real-time nanomechanical property modulation as a framework for tunable NEMS. Nature Communications.

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