New characterization equipment for 6G communication

etit professor Sascha Preu receives Proof of Concept Grant from the European Research Council

2024/01/18 by

With his “Photonic Vector Network Analyzers” (PhoVeNA) project, TU professor Sascha Preu (Department of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology) has received a Proof of Concept Grant for 150,000 euros from the European Research Council ERC. The project focuses on developing photonic characterization systems for the next generation of communication technology, which operates in the terahertz range.

etit professor Sascha Preu

Wireless communication is a key part of today’s digital world. Not only mobile telephones and laptops but increasingly also small devices and sensors communicate wirelessly within what is known as the “Internet of things”.

The amount of data generated is huge and steadily increasing. This is leading to a need for ever greater bandwidths and new, yet unused transmission channels. The highest commercially-used channels so far are in the microwave range (5G). For the next generation (6G), communication channels in the terahertz range above this (100 GHz-10 THz) have already been reserved.

Unfortunately, terahertz sources are much less powerful than microwave sources, and the availability of terahertz components is also lagging behind. In order to develop components to maturity, sophisticated characterisation techniques are needed to identify design faults and possible improvements.

Replace electronic components with optical ones

The most important “tools” in this context are vector network analysers (VNA). In simplified terms, VNAs send a high-frequency (in this case: terahertz) signal to a component under test and measure the backscattered or transmitted fields. These measurements enable statements about the functioning of the component.

The market is currently dominated by electronic systems. However, electronic terahertz VNAs are very expensive and can only be frequency-tuned to a limited extent. The aim of the PhoVeNA project is to develop two photonic alternatives in which essential electronic components are replaced with optical ones. The first system will be a frequency extender for a microwave VNA, the second will be a purely photonic system with much greater frequency coverage and lower acquisition costs compared to electronic VNAs.

The funding for PhoVeNA runs for 18 months and is already the third ERC grant that Sascha Preu has received. The researcher laid the foundations for this proof of concept in the ERC Starting Grant “Pho-T-Lyze”, which was awarded to him in 2017. In collaboration with industry partners, the technology is now set to be developed a little further towards marketability.

Proof of Concept Grant

A Proof of Concept Grant is funding that supplements the research grants from the European Research Council (ERC). It is exclusively aimed at researchers who already have an ERC grant and want to use research findings from their current or completed project pre-commercially. This is the first step towards a technology transfer. The aim of a proof of concept project should be to assess the market potential of such an idea. Therefore, the ERC does not use these grants to fund research activities, but instead funds measures for further development with regard to the application maturity, commercialisation or marketing of the idea. In the latest round of funding, 102 proposals from 20 countries were awarded an ERC Proof of Concept Grant.

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Personal profile

Sascha Preu came to TU Darmstadt in 2014 as a junior professor within the specialist area “LOEWE-Sensors Towards Terahertz” and is a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology since 2018. He obtained his doctorate at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light in 2009 in cooperation with Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg, and was the holder of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation’s Feodor Lynen scholarship for a postdoc at the University of California, Santa Barbara, USA, from 2010 to 2011. He then conducted research as a postdoc at the Chair of Applied Physics at Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg, before being offered a professorship at TU Darmstadt. Preu counts research institutions in the USA, China, Netherlands, India and Spain among his collaboration partners. Preu received an ERC Starting Grant endowed with 1.5 million euros for his “Pho-T-Lyze” project in 2017, a supplementary ERC Proof of Concept Grant amounting to 150,000 euros (“PhoSTer THz” project) in 2022 and now the PhoVeNA ERC Proof of Concept Grant with 150,000 euros of funding in 2024.

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