Compact cw Terahertz Spectrometer Pumped at 1.5 μm Wavelength
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- Stanze, D., Deninger, A., Roggenbuck, A. et al. J Infrared Milli Terahz Waves (2011) 32: 225. doi:10.1007/s10762-010-9751-8
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A compact and low-cost continuous wave terahertz spectrometer operating at an optical wavelength of 1.5 μm is presented. The spectrometer employs high power distributed feedback (DFB) laser diodes in integrated “butterfly” packages. No further optical amplification of the beating signal is required. An integrated photodiode antenna with an output power of 5 μW at 500 GHz is used as efficient terahertz emitter. Employing low-temperature grown (LT-) InGaAs/InAlAs photoconductive receivers as coherent detectors, SNR values of the terahertz power up to 75 dB are attained at an integration time of 300 ms. Accurate characterization of the thermal tuning behavior of the DFBs and precise thermal control yield an absolute accuracy of 1 GHz and a resolution of better than 5 MHz, without any on-line monitoring of the optical frequency. Due to the high frequency resolution no delay line is needed to vary the terahertz phase.
KeywordsContinuous wave terahertz systemDistributed feedback laserPhotodiode terahertz emitterPhotoconductive terahertz receiverTerahertz spectroscopy
Continuous-wave (cw) terahertz spectrometers based on GaAs photomixer technology [1–3] have demonstrated superior signal-to-noise ratios (SNR) and a wide bandwidth [4, 5]. Frequency-domain terahertz spectroscopy has been successfully applied to the study of gases [6, 7] and solids , and first industrial applications have been evaluated . However, these systems require an excitation wavelength below 870 nm and thus an intricate laser technology, with optical components (mode-hop free lasers, free-space optical isolators with Terbium Gallium Garnet crystals and customized fiber-optic arrays) being the major cost drivers.
In the telecom wavelength band (1.5 μm), mature distributed feedback (DFB) laser technology is available in reliable, highly integrated packages. Unfortunately, there has long been a lack of cw terahertz emitter and receiver modules. Recently, some of us have realized a prototype cw terahertz system operating at 1.5 μm, combining for the first time an InGaAs/InGaAsP photodiode emitter and an InGaAs/InAlAs photoconductive receiver . While demonstrating the overall feasibility of this approach, the prototype system employed expensive external cavity lasers and fiber amplifiers as optical source, and a mechanical delay line for phase-sensitive terahertz measurements.
In this work we transfer the precise frequency control technique developed for 850 nm lasers , to state-of-the-art DFB lasers at 1.5 μm. Then we combine this with the 1.5 μm THz emitter / coherent receiver concept outlined in  in order to build a potentially compact and low cost cw terahertz spectrometer. On the source side, an all-fiber-based two-color laser is controlled by a digital driver unit, which, via thermal tuning of the individual DFB diodes, precisely addresses any desired terahertz frequency. This system is described in detail in section 2. Section 3 deals with the photodiode-based terahertz emitters, section 4 describes the improvements of the photoconductive receiver for cw applications. The complete system is presented in section 5, including an evaluation in terms of the SNR performance attained. We show that the high frequency stability enables us to vary the terahertz phase by controlled frequency steps at fixed optical paths, omitting any mechanical delay line.
2 Laser source
Almost all coherent cw terahertz systems published in the literature utilized GaAs based emitters and detectors, and thus laser sources at either 780 nm or 850 nm. Despite the availability of compact, precisely tunable DFB diodes at near-infrared wavelengths [5, 8, 11, 12], the lasers have remained relatively large (typical size 20 × 8 × 8 cm per laser), and optical components such as bulk Faraday isolators or fiber-optic splitters contribute both to the large size and high manufacturing costs.
The setup used in this work comprised two DFB lasers with center wavelengths of 1537 nm (“laser 1”) and 1535 nm (“laser 2”). We used off-the-shelf butterfly packages with built-in thermo-electric cooler (TEC), optical isolator and polarization-maintaining fiber pigtail. The fiber output power was 50 mW per laser, and both lasers were packaged, together with an additional in-line fiber isolator each, in a small metal box (15 cm x 10 cm x 5 cm).
We note that the difference frequency range of these DFB lasers was limited to 900 GHz because of the large overlap region of the tuning range of nearly 2 nm (grey region in Fig. 1). This can be enhanced by selecting two DFB lasers with a larger wavelength offset. If both laser wavelengths overlapped at the extreme ends of the temperature spectrum, the continuous difference frequency range would broaden to ~ 1.25 THz. By using a third laser with a further wavelength offset an even broader tuning range can be envisaged, e.g. from 1 THz to 2.25 THz.
3 Terahertz emitter: waveguide integrated photodiode antenna (WIN-PDA)
The original off-the-shelf telecom photodiodes were upgraded to terahertz emitters by modifying the contacts and integrating a bowtie antenna (length 100 μm, 90 degree) onto the chip (Fig. 2c). We call this device “Waveguide INtegrated PhotoDiode Antenna” (WIN-PDA).
4 Coherent receiver: LT-InGaAs/InAlAs PCA
Photoconductive antennas (PCAs) operating at 1.5 μm have long been a problem, due to the high dark conductivity of LT InGaAs grown on InP which incapacitates the material for terahertz applications. Alternative techniques like Fe-doping  or ion irradiation  have been suggested for high speed 1.5 μm photoconductors, however up to now with limited success in terms of the terahertz emission power and the coherent detected signal.
For the cw setup we chose a 90 degree bowtie antenna design, adapted to the diode emitter antenna. In order to achieve higher sensitivities, we replaced the simple photoconductive gap of the pulsed devices by a digitated finger structure, shown in the SEM picture in Fig. 4b. Direct e-beam lithography was used to define these small contact electrodes. The photoconductive gaps in this structure have a width of 1 μm; the electrical contacts of less than 0.5 μm. Thus the design combines short gaps and more homogenous illumination between two fingers. Also the interaction length between the optical signal and the THz signal is increased.
The dark currents in our device were reduced by etching away the photoconductive layer outside the illuminated region. The resulting trench can be seen on the bottom of the SEM picture in Fig. 4b. The technique we used for this process is identical to the process for mesa etching presented in .
5 Assembly and evaluation of the cw spectrometer system
The aforementioned building blocks— compact DFB lasers, photodiode based terahertz emitter, and the coherent photoconductive receiver— were assembled into an ultra-compact cw terahertz system. The scheme of the setup and the individual components are shown in Fig. 6.
The frequencies of the two DFB lasers were thermally tuned by the digital “TeraControl 110” module. The laser beams were combined in a 50:50 fiber coupler, the outputs of which were connected to the terahertz emitter and receiver, respectively.
At this stage, the WIN-PDAs were not packaged, and we constructed a test platform with an inserted silicon lens on which the WIN-PDA chips were centered (photo in Fig. 6). The optical fiber was adjusted to the tapered waveguide using piezo controllers. The AC bias voltage for the terahertz emitter (0/−2.2 V, ~7 kHz) was provided by the TeraControl 110 and fed to the WIN-PDA via contact needles. The terahertz signal was guided through two PE-lenses to the receiver module, where the resulting photocurrent was measured by the digital lock-in part of the TeraControl unit.
In contrast to previous work [8, 10], this system featured no semiconductor or fiber amplifiers. Also, no delay line was used. Rather, the terahertz phase was varied by changing the frequency in small, well-controlled steps; a method described in  by “scanning an interference pattern in frequency”.
The signal to noise ratio of the system was ~75 dB at 75GHz and 40 dB at ~900GHz. The signal oscillations between 50 GHz and 400 GHz result from destructive interference of the terahertz signal on the electrical supply lines of the WIN-PDA. These oscillations will be minimized by improving the supply lines.
We emphasize that the bandwidth of the spectrum in Fig. 7 is not limited by the WIN-PDA emitter and PCA receiver, but merely by the frequency range of the DFB diodes available at the time of the experiment. A higher terahertz bandwidth can easily be realized with a different pair of laser diodes. For the emitter / receiver combination itself, operation up to 2 THz has already been demonstrated in a twin-ECDL driven system .
Compared to the GaAs-based system described in , the present SNR values are 15-20 dB lower, at comparable lock-in integration times and with nearly the same modulation frequency. Tentatively, the SNR can be further improved by modifying the antenna design of the emitter and receiver for more efficient terahertz emission and detection. Also the optimization of the multilayer structure of the receiver could increase the sensitivity. The key advantages of the 1.5 μm system presented here are its ultra-compact footprint, and the low cost of the utilized telecom components.
An ultra compact and low cost cw terahertz system operating at the telecom wavelength band of 1.5 μm has been assembled and characterized. Key components are a pair of thermally tunable DFB lasers, a photodiode based terahertz emitter, and a photoconductive InGaAs/InAlAs coherent receiver. The system exploits low cost fiber components developed for telecom applications. Neither an optical amplifier nor a mechanical delay line is used. The system achieves an excellent SNR of the terahertz power of up ~ 75 dB at 75 GHz, and 40 dB at ~ 900 GHz. The frequency range of the present setup is only limited by the tuning range of the DFB lasers and an extension of the bandwidth up to 2 THz seems feasible . This new cw system represents a significant step in bringing terahertz technologies from the laboratory to “real world” applications.
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