Detector for millimeter wave EM radiation

Sensor exploits the temperature-sensitive properties of ferroelectric devices for a simple and cost-effective instrument


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Scientists at the Army Research Laboratory have recently invented a system for measuring radiation, particularly in the millimeter and infrared wavelengths, that is extremely precise, simple in implementation, and relatively low in cost. The patented technology is available via patent license agreement to companies that would make, use, or sell it commercially.

The ARL system employs ferroelectric elements maintained in a constant temperature chamber at a temperature near their Curie temperature – the point at which the material loses its magnetic properties. The composition of the elements is such that this is near ambient temperature in order to reduce the power consumption required to maintain the temperature controlled chamber. A window in the chamber allows incoming radiation to fall on frequency sensitive radiation absorbers associated with each of the ferroelectric elements. The temperatures of these absorbers are increased in proportion to the radiation they absorb, thereby changing the temperatures of the ferroelectric elements and thus their dielectric constants. The ferroelectric elements are arranged in resonant circuits such that the resonant frequency of a given circuit shifts sharply as its associated ferroelectric element is heated and its temperature is changed relative to its Curie temperature.

In order to read out the change in the resonant frequency of a given circuit, a constant-amplitude swept-frequency signal or (chirp) is applied to the circuit. The time-domain response of the resonant circuit to the chirp is no longer a constant-amplitude signal: at the instant at which the instantaneous frequency of the chirp sweeps through the resonance frequency, the amplitude develops a spike. This output is applied to a circuit that records the position of the spike in time relative to the start of the original chirp and the resulting signal is a measurement of the resonant frequency of the circuit. Because this signal is a function of the temperature of the absorber, it records the level of incoming radiation at the absorber.

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