Tech Briefs Magazine - June 2022 - 33

Communications
Topological Control Capabilities for 5G Communications
Researchers find topological phenomena at high, technologically relevant frequencies.
University of Pennsylvania, PA
A
new research focusing on topological
control capabilities in an integrated
acoustic-electronic system at technologically
relevant frequencies could pave the
way for additional research on topological
properties in devices that use high-frequency
sound waves, with potential applications
including 5G communications and
quantum information processing.
The new research published in Nature
Electronics describes topological control
capabilities in an integrated acoustic-electronic
system at technologically
relevant frequencies. The study was led
by Qicheng (Scott) Zhang, a postdoc in
the lab of Charlie Johnson at the University
of Pennsylvania, in collaboration
with the group of Bo Zhen and colleagues
from Beijing University of Posts
and Telecommunications and the University
of Texas at Austin.
This research builds on concepts from
the field of topological materials, a theoretical
framework developed by Penn's
Charlie Kane and Eugene Mele. One example
of this type of material is a topological
insulator, which acts as an electrical
insulator on the inside but has a
surface that conducts electricity. Topological
phenomena are hypothesized to
occur in a wide range of materials, including
those that use light or sound
waves instead of electricity.
Zhang was interested in studying topological
phononic crystals, metamaterials
that use acoustic waves, or phonons. In
these crystals, topological properties are
known to exist at low frequencies in the
megahertz range, but Zhang wanted to
see if topological phenomena might also
occur at higher frequencies in the gigahertz
range because of the importance
of these frequencies for telecommunication
applications like 5G.
To study this complex system, the researchers
combined state-of-the-art
methodologies and expertise across theory,
simulation, nanofabrication, and experimental
measurements.
First,
researchers
in the Zhen lab, who have
expertise in studying topological properties
in light waves, conducted simulaTech
Briefs, June 2022
Schematic of a perfectly transmitted topological acoustic wave being imaged using a microwave
microscope. (Image: Qicheng Zhang)
tions to determine the best types of devices
to fabricate. Then, based on the
results of the simulations and using
high-precision tools at Penn's Singh
Center for Nanotechnology, the researchers
etched nanoscale circuits onto
aluminum nitride membranes.
These devices were then shipped to
the lab of Keji Lai at UT Austin for microwave
impedance microscopy, a method
that captures high-resolution images
of the acoustic waves at incredibly small
scales. Lai's approach uses a commercial
atomic force microscope with modifications
and additional electronics developed
by his lab.
The key finding of this work is the experimental
evidence showing that topological
phenomena do in fact occur at
higher frequency ranges. " This work
brings the concept of topology to gigahertz
acoustic waves, " said Zhang. " We
demonstrated that we can have this interesting
physics at a useful range, and now
we can build up the platform for more interesting
research to come. "
Another important result is that these
properties can be built into the atomic
structure of the device, so that different
areas of the material can propagate signals
in unique ways, results that were predicted
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by theorists but were " amazing " to see experimentally,
said Johnson. " That also has
its own important implications: When
you're conveying a wave along a sharp trail
in ordinary systems that don't have these
topological effects, at every sharp turn
you're going to lose something, like power,
but in this system you don't, " he said.
This work provides a critical starting
point for progress in both fundamental
physics research as well as for developing
new devices and technologies.
In the near term, the researchers are interested
in modifying their device to make
it more user-friendly and improving its
performance at higher frequencies, including
frequencies that are used for applications,
such as quantum information
processing.
" In terms of technological implications,
this is something that could make its way
into the toolbox for 5G or beyond, " added
Johnson. " The basic technology we're
working on is already in your phone, so
the question with topological vibrations is
whether we can come up with a way to do
something useful at these higher frequency
ranges that are characteristic of 5G. "
For more information contact Erica K.
Brockmeier at ekbrock@upenn.edu; 215898-8562.
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