Towards the Engineering of Pulsed Photoconductive Antennas

Alessandro Garufo

Research output: ThesisDissertation (TU Delft)

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In recent years, Terahertz technology has attracted the interest of researchers for its potential applications in a variety of domains. In particular, THz sensing has found application in security screening, medical imaging, spectroscopy, and non-destructive testing. The emergence of all these applications has been driven by the availability of photoconductive antennas, which have made available bandwidth in the THz spectrum at relatively low cost, thanks to several breakthroughs in photonics, and semiconductor technology. Photoconductive antennas are optoelectronic electromagnetic sources that resort to optically
pumped semiconductor materials. Such devices exploit the photoconductivity phenomenon to generate and radiate power over a broadband up to the THz frequencies. However, nowadays the use of photoconductive antennas are confined to niche short-range applications, because of the bottleneck of the low power emitted. Early in this research work, it was understood that such bottleneck came from the fact that there was not a clear description about the coupling between the photocondcutive source and the antenna. For this reason,
this work has been focused to develop a Thévenin or Norton equivalent circuit for the photoconductor generators of photoconductive antennas.
A Norton equivalent circuit for pulsed photoconductive antennas has been derived, starting by the electrodynamic model of the photogeneration of free carriers in laser pumped semiconductor material. Such equivalent circuit allows to maximize the radiated power as function of the geometry of the gap, the properties of the semiconductor material, and the features of the laser pump, providing a clear description of the coupling between the photoconductor generator and the antenna over the operative bandwidth.
An electromagnetic model of the quasi-optical (source-to-detector) channel, typically used for measuring power and spectrum radiated by photoconductive antennas, has been proposed. Such model jointly with the developed Norton equivalent circuit allows a complete characterization of the power budget from the source to the detector. Providing for the first time a complete description about the dispersion introduced by the quasi-optical channel on the energy spectrum radiated by photoconductive antennas. The entire proposed model (equivalent circuit and channel) has been validated by spectrum and power
measurements of photoconductive antenna prototypes.
The proposed equivalent circuit and the electromagnetic model of the quasi-optical channel provide a powerful engineering tool to design photoconductive antennas, opening the way for more standard engineering optimization of wide band laser pumped sources, resorting to the vast heritage of wide band microwave engineering tools that have been developed mostly for analyzing detectors in radiometric domains.
The radiation performances of logarithmic spiral antennas as feed of dense dielectric lenses has been intensively analyzed. The results of the investigation have demonstrated the presence of the leaky wave radiation, when the spiral antenna are printed at the air dielectric interface, leading to a design of a logarithmic spiral antenna lens antenna, which provides an high aperture efficiency over a decade frequency bandwidth. However, only using extremely thin substrate allows to feed this design with a planar feeding system without limiting the bandwidth. A new design of a logarithmic spiral lens antenna has been proposed for relaxing such limitation, introducing a small air gap between the spiral feed and the bottom lens interface, which enhances the leaky wave radiation. Such new design, coupled with a synthesized elliptical lens, achieves directive patterns without sidelobes over a decade frequency bandwidth. Moreover, the new spiral design can be used also as feed of a hemispherical lens with low extension height, when the dispersion of the radiated pulses has to be minimized.
A novel design for photoconductive sources has been proposed, aiming to increase dramatically the radiated power with respect to the current photoconductive antennas. The new source is based on the well established concept in the microwave community of connected array. Thanks to the intrinsic wide band behavior of the connected array, the proposed solution is able to radiate efficiently the wide band energy spectrum generated by the photoconductive source. Such design is suitable to be employed also as receiver of ultra-wide bandwidth radiation, increasing the sensitivity with respect to the current photoconductive receivers. In order to implement the design of the photoconductive connected array, an ad-hoc biasing network has been proposed, in order to properly bias all the array cells, preserving the connected structure of the elements. Moreover, a design of an optical system has been proposed, in order to optically excite all the elements of the photoconductive array coherently. Using the proposed Norton equivalent circuit for photoconductive generator, a photoconductive connected array generating an average power of 2.35mW over a bandwidth from 0.1THz − 0.4THz has been designed. A demonstrator of the proposed photoconductive source design is going to be realized, and a complete characterization of the prototype will be performed by means of power and spectrum measurements, proving the validity of the concept.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Delft University of Technology
  • Neto, A., Supervisor
  • Llombart Juan, N., Advisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Jun 2017
Place of PublicationDelft
Print ISBNs 978-94-028-0657-1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2017


  • photoconductivity
  • photoconductive antenna
  • THz source
  • THz technology
  • equivalent circuit
  • dispersion
  • leaky wave antenna
  • lens antenna
  • ultra-wideband antenna
  • ultra-wideband array

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