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Engineers at The University of Texas at Dallas have created semiconductor technology that could make night vision and thermal imaging affordable for everyday use.

Zeshan Ahmad (left), electrical engineering doctoral candidate and lead author of the work, is a research assistant at the Texas Analog Center of Excellence, which is directed by Dr. Kenneth O, professor of electrical engineering in the Jonsson School.

Researchers in the Texas Analog Center of Excellence (TxACE) in the University’s Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science created an electronic device in affordable technology that detects electromagnetic waves to create images at nearly 10 terahertz, which is the highest frequency for electronic devices. The device could make night vision and heat-based imaging affordable. Presently, night vision and thermal imagers are costly, in part because they are made with specialty semiconductor devices or need isolation from the environment.

The UT Dallas device is created using Schottky diodes in Complementary Metal- Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS) technology. “There are no existing electronic detection systems operating in CMOS that can reach above 5 terahertz,” said Zeshan Ahmad, lead author of the work, electrical engineering doctoral candidate and a research assistant in TxACE. “We designed our chip in such a way that it can be mass produced inexpensively, has a smaller pixel and operates at higher frequencies.”

Dr. Kenneth O, professor of electrical engineering in the Jonsson School and director of TxACE, noted the time it took for the field to reach this frequency in CMOS.

“This is a truly remarkable accomplishment,” said Dr. O, holder of the Texas Instruments Distinguished Chair. “Twenty years ago, we were struggling to build CMOS circuits operating at 1 gigahertz. Now we are building circuits working at frequencies that are 10,000 times higher.”

The next step in the research is to realize CMOS devices that can reach even higher frequencies, up to 40 terahertz.

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