23 July 2014 Development of hot-electron THz bolometric mixers using MgB2 thin films
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Terahertz high-resolution spectroscopy of interstellar molecular clouds greatly relies on hot-electron superconducting bolometric (HEB) mixers. Current state-of-the-art receivers use mixer devices made from ultrathin (~ 3-5 nm) films of NbN with critical temperature ~ 9-11 K. Such mixers have been deployed on a number of groundbased, suborbital, and orbital platforms including the HIFI instrument on the Hershel Space Observatory. Despite its good sensitivity and well-established fabrication process, the NbN HEB mixer suffers from the narrow intermediate frequency (IF) bandwidth ~ 2-3 GHz and is limited to operation at liquid Helium temperature. As the heterodyne receivers are now trending towards “high THz” frequencies, the need in a larger IF bandwidth becomes more pressing since the same velocity resolution for a Doppler shifted line at 5 THz requires a 5-times greater IF bandwidth than at 1 THz. Our work is focusing on the realization of practical HEB mixers using ultrathin (10-20 nm) MgB2 films. They are prepared using a Hybrid Physical-Chemical Vapor Deposition (HPCVD) process yielding ultrathin films with critical temperature ~ 37-39 K. The expectation is that the combination of small thickness, high acoustic phonon transparency at the interface with the substrate, and very short electron-phonon relaxation time may lead to IF bandwidth ~ 10 GHz or even higher. SiC continues to be the most favorable substrate for MgB2 growth and as a result, a study has been conducted on the transparency of SiC at THz frequencies. FTIR measurements show that semi-insulating SiC substrates are at least as transparent as Si up to 2.5 THz. Currently films are passivated using a thin (10 nm) SiO2 layer which is deposited ex-situ via RF magnetron sputtering. Micron-sized spiral antenna-coupled HEB mixers have been fabricated using MgB2 films as thin as 10 nm. Fabrication was done using contact UV lithography and Ar Ion milling, with E-beam evaporated Au films deposited for the antenna. Measurements have been carried out on these devices in the DC, Microwave, and THz regimes. The devices are capable of mixing signals above 20 K indicating that operation may be possible using a cryogen-free cooling system. We will report the results of all measurements taken to indicate the local oscillator power requirements and the IF bandwidth of MgB2 HEB mixers.
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Daniel Cunnane, Jonathan Kawamura, Boris S. Karasik, Matthaeus A. Wolak, X. X. Xi, "Development of hot-electron THz bolometric mixers using MgB2 thin films", Proc. SPIE 9153, Millimeter, Submillimeter, and Far-Infrared Detectors and Instrumentation for Astronomy VII, 91531Q (23 July 2014); doi: 10.1117/12.2054607; https://doi.org/10.1117/12.2054607

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