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Today's and Tomorrow's Terahertz Microcavity Resonators

Key Takeaways

  • Microwave photonics circuit elements will need to be similar to their RF analogs to provide the desired functionality.

  • One of these analogous circuit elements is a terahertz microwave cavity resonator, which can be integrated onto an IC with standard CMOS processes.

  • This is one of many circuit elements that can be placed on an IC and used to enable unique applications.

Fiber optic cables that can eventually be used for communicating with terahertz microcavity resonators

These fibers will soon be integrated into semiconductor wafers as microwave lines to communicate with unique circuit elements like terahertz microcavity resonators.

Microwave components have a lot more going on than what ends up in your microwave oven. Terahertz wave sources, detectors, and components have yet to be miniaturized, and the terahertz portion of the microwave spectrum is still largely unexplored. So far, the best we can do is get into the high GHz (low THz) region for oscillation, detection, and wave manipulation. This region is critical for many applications, including quantum computing, imaging, sensing, and ultra-fast communication.

One fundamental set of components is terahertz microcavity resonators. These components are part of a larger photonics platform and they play analogous roles to RF resonators on a PCB. The simple geometry of these resonators also allows them to be placed on a chip alongside other photonic structures. If you’re a budding photonics engineer, keep reading to learn more about these resonator structures and how they might play a role in current and upcoming photonics systems.

What Are Terahertz Microcavity Resonators?

Much like any other resonator, terahertz microcavity resonators have a fundamental frequency that lies in the terahertz region. In terms of wavelength, a 1 THz wave in air has a wavelength of only 300 microns, which is quite large compared to today’s transistors. These structures provide the same function as well; they allow a wave matching the fundamental frequency or one of its harmonics to excite a high-Q resonance, whereby a standing wave can form in the cavity.

Much like a wave on a string or in a waveguide, this standing wave at one of the eigenfrequencies will have very high intensity due to constructive interference inside the cavity. The very strong, very coherent electromagnetic wave in this structure can then be used for some other application. The challenges in working with these structures are wave generation and detection, both of which need to be solved for terahertz microcavity resonators to be useful at the chip level.

Geometry and Eigenfrequencies

The image below shows a simple rectangular terahertz microcavity resonator and its discrete eigenfrequency spectrum. The eigenfrequencies can be tuned to desired values by adjusting the geometry, just like any other resonator. The equation below applies to a closed rectangular cavity and provides a good first approximation for a slightly lossy cavity (i.e., with high dielectric constant contrast at the edge).

Rectangular terahertz microcavity resonator geometry and eigenfrequencies formula

Rectangular terahertz microcavity resonator geometry and eigenfrequencies.

Although a rectangular geometry is shown above, more complex structures may be used for different applications. In a different structure (e.g., circular, hemispherical, or cylindrical) with an open edge, the eigenfrequencies may not obey such a simple equation. Instead, they may be determined from a dispersion relation that is a transcendental equation, which requires a numerical technique to extract specific frequencies. This is a well-known procedure for solving Sturm-Liouville problems in waveguides and resonators.

If you have a much more complex structure that can’t be approximated as a simple shape, the various eigenfrequencies and the spatial distribution of the electromagnetic field can be determined using a 3D field solver (FDFD technique). A field solver you would normally use for IC packages can also be used for modeling terahertz microcavity resonators.


Applications for terahertz microcavity resonators are still being researched, as are the device architectures required for different applications. Some proposed applications of terahertz microcavity resonators include:

  • Sensing and imaging: High-Q terahertz microcavity resonators can be used for highly coherent imaging and sensing, with applications in molecular detection and biological imaging.

  • Silicon photonics: While this application area is normally discussed in terms of SMF or MMF wavelengths, devices in this area can also operate at THz frequencies and will need terahertz microcavity resonators to act as filters and amplifiers.

  • Communication: Currently, the world record for the highest data rate transmission belongs to an experimental wireless system operating at THz frequencies. Miniaturizing these systems at the chip level will require microcavity structures, including terahertz microcavity resonators.

The important advancement provided by these structures is that they can occur on an integrated circuit. Today, these applications still involve large optical systems where an infrared mode comb in a femtosecond soliton laser is used to generate a terahertz wave through interference. Similarly, large systems are also used for the detection and manipulation of terahertz waves. Terahertz microcavity resonators are one class of components that can provide high-Q or low-Q reception of THz frequencies, which can then be passed to a detector element or other photonic circuit.

Material Platforms

The range of useful materials for building terahertz microcavity resonators, or for building coupling structures, is also an open research question. Some material platforms used for terahertz microcavity resonators include:

  • Silicon: This material is the most promising for the fabrication of terahertz devices and their integration alongside other electronic circuits. 

  • GaAs, other III-V’s, and II-VI’s: This promising set of photonic materials has already shown interesting results at ~3 THz frequencies, particularly for the generation of laser light. This material platform is promising for photonics in general. 

  • Photonic crystals: Periodic nanostructures that are fabricated through chemical deposition methods provide a tunable platform for fabricating a range of terahertz devices, including terahertz microcavity resonators.

  • Dielectrics: This broad range of materials includes oxides, salts, polymers, and other materials that can support transmission or absorption in various THz frequency ranges. For integration, the best set of materials should bond to the industry’s current range of semiconductors.

Terahertz microcavity resonators and materials

Microcavity resonator materials should be chosen to integrate into existing semiconductor materials platforms and manufacturing processes.

As your technology and designs push into more advanced spaces with the years to come, more advanced software that can navigate the nuances and challenges of THz components will be necessary. Be sure to prepare adequately as you stay ahead of the frequency curve.