18 March 2022
Phase-change nanowires could serve as the ultimate tunable frequency synthesizers and filters for the future of IoT and 5G networks.
In a paper published today in Nature Communications, researchers at the University of Oxford and the University of Pennsylvania have found a power-free and ultra-fast way of frequency tuning using functional nanowires.
Think of an orchestra warming up before the performance. The oboe starts to play a perfect A note at a frequency of 440 Hz while all the other instruments adjust themselves to that frequency. Telecommunications technology relies on this very concept of matching the frequencies of transmitters and receivers. In practice, this is achieved when both ends of the communication link tune into the same frequency channel.
In today’s colossal communications networks, the ability to reliably synthesise as many frequencies as possible and to rapidly switch from one to another is paramount for seamless connectivity.
Researchers at the University of Oxford and the University of Pennsylvania have fabricated vibrating nanostrings of a chalcogenide glass (germanium telluride) that resonate at predetermined frequencies, just like guitar strings. To tune the frequency of these resonators, the researchers switch the atomic structure of the material, which in turn changes the mechanical stiffness of the material itself.
This differs from existing approaches that apply mechanical stress on the nanostrings similar to tuning a guitar using the tuning pegs. This directly translates into higher power consumption because the pegs are not permanent and require a voltage to hold the tension.
Utku Emre Ali, at the University of Oxford who completed the research as part of his doctoral work said:
‘By changing how atoms bond with each other in these glasses, we are able to change the Young’s modulus within a few nanoseconds. Young’s modulus is a measure of stiffness, and it directly affects the frequency at which the nanostrings vibrate.’
Professor Ritesh Agarwal at the University of Pennsylvania, who collaborated on the study first discovered a unique mechanism that changed the atomic structure of novel nanomaterials back in 2012.
‘The idea that our fundamental work could have consequences in such an interesting demonstration more than 10 years down the line is humbling. It’s fascinating to see how this concept extends to mechanical properties and how well it works,’ said Professor Agarwal.
Professor Harish Bhaskaran, Department of Materials, University of Oxford who led the work said:
‘This study creates a new framework that uses functional materials whose fundamental mechanical property can be changed using an electrical pulse. This is exciting and our hope is that it inspires further development of new materials that are optimized for such applications.’
The engineers further estimate that their approach could operate a million times more efficiently than commercial frequency synthesisers while offering 10-100 times faster tuning. Although improving the cyclability rates and the readout techniques is a necessity for commercialisation, these initial results might mean higher data rates with longer-lasting batteries in the future.
The full paper, Real-time nanomechanical property modulation as a framework for tunable NEMS, is published in Nature Communications.
Notes to editors
For further information or to arrange an interview, please contact the University of Oxford press office at email@example.com or on +44 (0)1865 280528
University of Oxford
Oxford University has been placed number 1 in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for the sixth year running, and 2 in the QS World Rankings 2022. At the heart of this success is our ground-breaking research and innovation.
Oxford is world-famous for research excellence and home to some of the most talented people from across the globe. Our work helps the lives of millions, solving real-world problems through a huge network of partnerships and collaborations. The breadth and interdisciplinary nature of our research sparks imaginative and inventive insights and solutions.
Through its research commercialisation arm, Oxford University Innovation, Oxford is the highest university patent filer in the UK and is ranked first in the UK for university spinouts, having created more than 200 new companies since 1988. Over a third of these companies have been created in the past three years. The university is a catalyst for prosperity in Oxfordshire and the United Kingdom, contributing £15.7 billion to the UK economy in 2018/19, and supports more than 28,000 full time jobs