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The final frontier of the electromagnetic spectrum: the Terahertz Gap

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Course DatesWeeksMeeting TimesStatusInstructor(s)CRNRegistration
July 23, 2018 - July 27, 20181M-F 3:30P-6:20POpenRajind Mendis

Course Description

The course will introduce students to one of the most fascinating and relatively new engineering research fields, namely, Terahertz (THz) Science & Technology; or in short, the THz field.

The THz field deals with the generation, detection, and manipulation of electromagnetic waves in the THz frequency range. THz waves bridge the gap between microwaves and light-waves, spanning frequencies from 0.1 THz to 10 THz, where 1 THz = 10^12 Hz.

This "THz gap" is called the final frontier of the electromagnetic spectrum since it has remained relatively unexplored compared to other spectral regions.

In comparison to THz waves, kHz (10^3 Hz) waves are used for radio broadcasts, MHz (10^6 Hz) waves are used for TV broadcasts, and GHz (10^9 Hz) waves are used for satellite communications. A unique combination of properties makes THz waves ideal for a wide variety of applications in communications, homeland security, medical diagnosis, non-destructive evaluation, quality control, and environmental monitoring. These potential benefits to society have attracted a great deal of interest to this field in recent years.

The course will also introduce what are known as "artificial dielectrics", in relation to the THz field. Dielectrics do not conduct electricity, and are synonymous to insulators in engineering. Artificial dielectrics are man-made materials that exhibit properties not usually found in nature. For example, the well-known dielectric property, the refractive index, has a value equal to one in a vacuum, and is greater than one in naturally occurring dielectric materials like glass and plastic. However, in an artificial dielectric, the refractive index can have a value less than one, even zero.

The course will consist of both lectures and laboratory demonstrations. The laboratory component of the course will be carried out in the newly built THz Science & Technology Lab in Brown's Engineering building. In the Lab, students will have supervised access to THz components and devices that are used to conduct cutting-edge research.

THz artificial dielectrics provide an intriguing, yet simplistic, engineering platform to introduce students to fundamental wave phenomena like refraction, reflection, diffraction, and polarization. This is because the underlying property that governs the operation of artificial dielectrics, the refractive index, will be familiar to students who have taken high-school physics. Furthermore, artificial dielectrics can even be used to develop invisibility (cloaking) devices.

Various artificial-dielectric devices will be used to demonstrate some of these fundamental wave phenomena. This will be an excellent opportunity to expand students' practical understanding of these wave phenomena as a stepping stone to an engineering college degree, while at the same time being exposed to cutting-edge research.

By the end of this course, students will have a deeper understanding of various practical aspects of a high-precision optics research laboratory. For example, the fact that all experiments are carried out on "floating optical tables", to eliminate background mechanical vibrations. They will have contributed to the setting-up of a complete THz system that would include a transmitter, a receiver, and an artificial-dielectric device. This system will also include several beam forming and shaping elements.

This work will broaden their knowledge on several fundamental concepts that are taught in typical engineering undergraduate courses related to electromagnetic theory, wave phenomena, and signal processing. In essence, it will allow them a glimpse of the exciting world of scientific research, and elucidate how they could contribute and collaborate on cutting-edge research projects as future undergraduate engineers.

Prerequisites: Completion of a high-school physics course is recommended.