The high-performance phase shifter uses a liquid Gallium alloy. (Image:

Researchers at the University of Birmingham have developed a new type of high-performance “phase shifter” using a liquid gallium alloy — which varies the phase angle of microwave and millimeter-wave radio signals — for use in advanced phase array antenna systems.

The phase shifter is a key enabling technology for advanced phased array antennas (PAA), which are widely used in mobile base stations, satellites, and radar systems. These PAA systems use multiple phase shifters to provide the controlled phase increments that steer the radiation beam. However, current phase shifters typically use semiconductors and suffer from high loss of signal (insertion losses) and relatively poor power-handling capability.

“An ideal phase shifter would provide a stable and wide phase angle range with a minimal loss of signal over the operation bandwidth,” said Birmingham’s Dr. Yi Wang. “However, conventional phase shifters suffer from signal losses which increase as the phase angle increases, and the phase varies with frequency. Taken together, these issues can cause signal degradation and impair performance. Rectifying this requires additional complicated circuitry and consumes more power, which adds to both the bulk and the running cost of the entire antenna.”

The team aimed to overcome these long-standing issues by designing a new type of phase shifter that controls the phase shift via a liquid-metal material that runs in microfluidic channels. The prototype-testing results, published in IEEE Transactions on Microwave Theory and Techniques, show that the new phase shifter shows low signal losses that are almost independent of phase angle.

In addition, while most conventional phase shifters provide different phase delay at different frequencies, which limits their usable bandwidth and applicability, the new phase shifter has a “phase compensation” technique that provides extremely low phase deviation with frequency over a wide bandwidth.

A patent application has been filed to cover the microfluidic channel wave-guiding device, and the research team is now seeking to license the novel technology for development and commercialization and is doing further research to expand this protection.

“The new phase shifter does not need cleanroom facilities for fabrication, so is inexpensive to manufacture,” Wang said. “The liquid-metal enabled phase shifting elements have a ‘passive’ nature, unlike the ‘active’ semiconductor-based counterparts, which potentially offers high power-handling capability. Apart from the signature application in phased array antennas, the phase shifters may find a wide range of usages from communications and radars to instruments.”

For more information, contact Ruth Ashton at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..