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Graphene gives a tremendous boost to future terahertz cameras

Posted By Graphene Council, The Graphene Council, Tuesday, April 23, 2019
Updated: Saturday, April 20, 2019
Scientists have developed a novel graphene-enabled photodetector that operates at room temperature, is highly sensitive, very fast, has a wide dynamic range and covers a broad range of THz frequencies.

Detecting terahertz (THz) light is extremely useful for two main reasons:

First, THz technology is becoming a key element in applications regarding security (such as airport scanners), wireless data communication, and quality control, to mention just a few. However, current THz detectors have shown strong limitations in terms of simultaneously meeting the requirements for sensitivity, speed, spectral range, being able to operate at room temperature, etc.

Second, it is a very safe type of radiation due to its low-energy photons, with more than a hundred times less energy than that of photons in the visible light range.

Many graphene-based applications are expected to emerge from its use as material for detecting light. Graphene has the particularity of not having a bandgap, as compared to standard materials used for photodetection, such as silicon. The bandgap in silicon causes incident light with wavelengths longer than one micron to not be absorbed and thus not detected. In contrast, for graphene, even terahertz light with a wavelength of hundreds of microns can be absorbed and detected. Whereas THz detectors based on graphene have shown promising results so far, none of the detectors so far could beat commercially available detectors in terms of speed and sensitivity.

In a recent study, ICFO researchers Sebastian Castilla and Dr. Bernat Terres, led by ICREA Prof. at ICFO Frank Koppens and former ICFO scientist Dr. Klaas-Jan Tielrooij (now Junior Group Leader at ICN2), in collaboration with scientists from CIC NanoGUNE, NEST (CNR), Nanjing University, Donostia International Physics Center, University of Ioannina and the National Institute for Material Sciences, have been able to overcome these challenges. They have developed a novel graphene-enabled photodetector that operates at room temperature, and is highly sensitive, very fast, has a wide dynamic range and covers a broad range of THz frequencies.

In their experiment, the scientists were able to optimize the photoresponse mechanism of a THz photodetector using the following approach. They integrated a dipole antenna into the detector to concentrate the incident THz light around the antenna gap region. By fabricating a very small (100 nm, about one thousand times smaller than the thickness of a hair) antenna gap, they were able to obtain a great intensity concentration of THz incident light in the photoactive region of the graphene channel. They observed that the light absorbed by the graphene creates hot carriers at a pn-junction in graphene; subsequently, the unequal Seebeck coefficients in the p- and n-regions produce a local voltage and a current through the device generating a very large photoresponse and, thus, leading to a very high sensitivity, high speed response detector, with a wide dynamic range and a broad spectral coverage.

The results of this study open a pathway towards the development a fully digital low-cost camera system. This could be as cheap as the camera inside the smartphone, since such a detector has proven to have a very low power consumption and is fully compatible with CMOS technology.

Tags:  Bernat Terres  CIC NanoGUNE  Donostia International Physics Center  Frank Koppens  Graphene  ICERA  ICFO  Klaas-Jan Tielrooij  Nanjing University  National Institute for Material Sciences  photodetectors  Sebastian Castilla  University of Ioannina 

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Graphene-based Image Sensors Offer New Commerical Avenues

Posted By Dexter Johnson, IEEE Spectrum, Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Mobile World Congress (MWC) held annually in Barcelona, Spain is one of the largest technology conferences in the world. For the last three years, the MWC has been hosting the Graphene Pavilion that showcases the research institutes and technologies that they have developed under the EU’s Graphene Flagship

The Graphene Council visited the Graphene Pavilion last month in Barcelona and we came back with some videos. One of the anchor institutions at the Pavilion is The Institute of Photonics (ICFO)  located just outside of Barcelona. The Graphene Council has been speaking to Frank Koppens at ICFO since 2015 about how graphene was impacting photonics and optoelectronics. 

In our latest visit with them at MWC this year, we got an update on some of the ways they are applying their technologies to various technologies.

In the one shown in the video below, the researchers have developed ultraviolet (UV) sensors for protecting the wearers from overexposure to the sun.

While specifics of the underlying technology are not discussed in the video, it would appear to be based on the CMOS-based image sensor for UV-visible-infrared light that the ICFO developed based on a combination of graphene and quantum dots.

What the ICFO discovered six years ago was that while graphene generates an electron-hole pair for every single photon the material absorbs generates, it doesn’t really absorb that much light. To overcome this limitation of graphene, they combined it with quantum dots with the hybrid material being capable of absorbing 25 percent of the light falling on it. When you combine this new absorption capability with graphene’s ability to make every photon into an electron-hole pair, the potential for generating current became significant.

The ICFO has been proposing applications like this for this underlying technology for years, and producing working prototypes. At the MWC in 2016, the ICFO was exhibiting a heart rate monitor. In that device, when a finger is placed on the photodetector, the digit acts as an optical modulator, changing the amount of light hitting the photodetector as your heart beats and sends blood through your fingertip. This change in signal is what generates a pulse rate on the screen of the mobile device.

This same basic technology is at the heart of another technology ICFO was exhibiting this year (see video below) in which the graphene-based photodector can determine what kind of milk you are about to drink. This could conceivably be used by someone who has a lactose intolerance that could threaten their lives and by using the detector could determine if it was cow’s milk or soy milk, for instance.

While ICFO goes so far as to discuss prices for the devices, it’s not clear that ICFO is really committed to any of these technologies for its wide-spectrum CMOS graphene image sensor, or not. In the case of the heart monitor, the researchers claimed at the time it was really just intended to demonstrate the capabilities of the technology.

The long-range aim of the technology is to improve the design of these graphene-based image sensors to operate at a higher resolution and in a broader wavelength range. Once the camera is improved, the ICFO expects that will be used inside a smartphone or smart watch. In the meantime, these wearable technologies offer intriguing possibilities and maybe even a real commercial avenue for the technology.

Tags:  CMOS  graphene  ICFO  infrared  Mobile World Congress  photodetectors  quantum dots  ultraviolet 

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Plasmonics Without Light Just Flipped Nanophotonics on its Head

Posted By Dexter Johnson, IEEE Spectrum, Monday, October 23, 2017

The use of graphene in the growing field known as plasmonics—in which the waves of electrons known as surface plasmons that are generated when photons strike a metallic structure—has been transforming the world of photonics and optoelectronics, enabling the possibility of much smaller devices operated by photons rather than electrons.

The Graphene Council has covered the work being performed at one of the leading research institutes in the world in this field of plasmonics, the Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO) in Barcelona. 

We had the opportunity to visit ICFO last week and speak to a number of their researchers, which we will be sharing in the coming weeks. In particular, we spoke to F. Javier García de Abajo from the Nanophotonics Theory research group at ICFO,  who has proposed a revolutionary approach of exploiting graphene for plasmonics.

It’s worth providing a bit of background on the field of plasmonics before jumping to this latest research. The use of photons instead of electrons for something like an integrated circuit has the clear benefit that photons travel much faster than electrons, promising much faster devices. However, the use of light in these applications is limited by the relatively large size of wavelengths of light. Light is fast, but their wavelengths are much larger than nanometer-scale dimensions of most integrated circuits.

Plasmonics provides a way to convert that light—photons—into waves of electrons that can be tuned to have much smaller dimensions than those of light. The dimensions of these plasmon waves can be a hundred times smaller than the smallest wavelengths of light. This means that light can serve as the basis of photonic integrated circuits, but many more devices than that.

The field of plasmonics has really taken in off in the last half-decade, and ICFO has been at the forefront of a lot of that work, especially in using graphene to enable the effect. However, what Garcia de Abajo has proposed is a new theoretical approach to generate visible plasmons in graphene not from light but from tunneling electrons.

In research published in the journal ACS Photonics, Garcia de Abajo and his colleague Sandra de Vega have suggested that there are more efficient ways of generating surface plasmons on graphene than using an external light source and have instead shown through models that graphene plasmons can be efficiently excited via electron tunneling in a sandwich structure formed by two graphene monolayers separated by a few atomic layers of hexagonal boron nitride.

As mentioned, it’s possible to tune the size of the plasmon waves, especially graphene plasmons, which can be changed in size according to the amount of doping level (an addition of other materials). While high doping levels can push the wavelength of the graphene plasmons towards the visible range, these grpahene plasmons primarily reside in the mid-infrared region, which translates into a weak coupling between far-field light and graphene.

What de Vega and García de Abajo have proposed is a methodology for visible-plasmon generation in graphene that requires no light at all. Instead, plasmons are generated from tunneling electrons, which are electrons that are able to pass through a material on the quantum level that they could not otherwise pass through.

To achieve this photon-less plasmonics, the researchers propose a graphene–hexagonal boron nitride (hBN)–graphene sandwich structure. In their model, the hBN layer is 1-nm thick that is sandwiched between two graphene monolayers.

When the right amount of voltage (bias) is applied between the two graphene sheets, it produces tunneling electrons through the gap. The researchers discovered a particular voltage window in which the tunneling electrons lose energy through the excitation of a propagating optical plasmon rather than dissipate through coupling with the vibrations of the crystal lattice of hBN that carry heat, which are known as phonons, (low bias) or electron–electron interactions (high bias).

One of the side benefits of plasmonic devices that operate in this way—without the need for photons—can also be used in reverse as sensors. In this way when a change occurs in the graphene plasmon properties, that change could lead to a voltage readout.

Tags:  electrons  graphene  hexagonal boron nitride  ICFO  photonics  photons  plasmonics  sensors 

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