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Tunable topological metasurfaces and applications on microwave/millimetre-wave antennas and circuits for future mobile and satellite communications.

School of Physics and Astronomy

About the Project

Wireless communication systems increasingly require antennas with small size, high gain and multi-functionality, such as operation at more than one frequency, different polarisations and using multiple beams. At present, most wireless communications operate in the RF to the low millimetre-wave (mm-wave) part of the spectrum, for example the Ka-band from 26-40GHz. The trend, though, is for higher frequencies to be prescribed. V-band (40-50 GHz) mobile satellite networks are already under development (e.g. the SpaceX Starlink mobile network) and the 6G communication system envisages operation at over 100GHz. Use of multiple, discrete, antennas to support these communications systems is becoming increasingly untenable, particularly in vehicular and airborne applications. Their attendant feed and control networks present similar problems, particularly when the need for inspection, maintenance and repair are considered, alongside their size and weight impact.

A promising solution to the challenges outlined above is the developing science of topological metamaterials. Metamaterials and metasurfaces are artificial structures capable of achieving EM properties not available from natural materials. They have been used in recent years to design antennas with reduced size [1], high directivity [2], multi-band operation [3] or specific polarisation (e.g. circular polarisation) [4]. Topological metamaterials would importantly introduce the capability to guide electromagnetic waves with minimum losses along desired paths within a system or a platform, including at mm-wave and THz frequencies [5]. This will be achieved by supporting topologically protected surface states, which produce strongly bound surface waves with no radiation, even in the presence of sharp corners and discontinuities along the structure. Multi-purpose structure, able to perform a mechanical and electromagnetic function will be the result, offering the potential for large savings in the size, weight and maintenance overheads associated with modern communications suites. Furthermore, the use of tunable metamaterials will enable multiple functions in one antenna or system, further addressing the demands associated with modern communications functionality. This project will develop new reconfigurable topological metamaterial paradigms that will enable true broadband and multi-functional antennas and associated components (such as feeding lines, power splitters etc). Available tuning technologies, such as conventional PIN or varactor diodes, suffer from high losses as well as other limitations at mm-wave frequencies and above. There is, therefore, the demand for exploring tuning techniques at these frequencies, with minimized losses and high tuning range, while at the same time, maintaining a stable and broadband response. Such novel tuning elements will enable the implementation of new topological metamaterials and antennas, and produce disruptive results in the frequency bands required to support future communication systems.

This project is based on an iCASE PhD studentship, offered by QinetiQ. We have a strong collaboration with QinetiQ, a major UK technology company, with excellent design and fabrication capabilities for various materials and electronic devices. Through this collaboration, we are in a unique position to design and develop specifically optimized tunable components and phase shifters, such as ferroelectric-based varactors, with low loss and range of operation well into the mm-wave band. This project will focus on the co-design of these tuning components integrated with novel topological metasurfaces, leading to new paradigms of conformal multi-functional antennas and RF front-end subsystems for defence as well as commercial mobile and satellite communications applications.

Funding Notes

This project is based on an iCASE fully-funded PhD studentship with QinetiQ, studying within the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Topological Design. Applicants should indicate in their application that they are applying for this, specific project.

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