Progress has been made toward solving some practical problems in the implementation of terahertz-to-optical frequency converters utilizing whispering-gallery-mode (WGM) resonators. Such frequency converters are expected to be essential parts of non-cryogenic terahertz-radiation receivers that are, variously, under development or contemplated for a variety of applications in airborne and spaceborne instrumentation for astronomical and military uses.

A WGM Resonator Ring is mounted on a post made of a material having an index of refraction significantly lower than that of the ring to provide mechanical support without sacrificing confinement of the WGM modes in the ring.
In most respects, the basic principles of terahertz-to-optical frequency conversion in WGM resonators are the same as those of microwave (sub-terahertz)-to-optical frequency conversion in WGM resonators, various aspects of which were discussed in the three preceeding articles. To recapitulate: In a receiver following this approach, a preamplified incoming microwave signal (in the present case, a terahertz signal) is up-converted to an optical signal by a technique that exploits the nonlinearity of the electromagnetic response of a whispering-gallery-mode (WGM) resonator made of LiNbO3 or another suitable electro-optical material. Upconversion takes place by three-wave mixing in the resonator. To ensure the required interaction among the optical and terahertz signals, the WGM resonator must be designed and fabricated to function as an electro-optical modulator while simultaneously exhibiting (1) resonance at the required microwave and optical operating frequencies and (2) phase matching among the microwave and optical signals circulating in the resonator. Downstream of the WGM resonator, the up-converted signal is processed photonically by use of a tunable optical filter or local oscillator and is then detected.

The practical problems addressed in the present development effort are the following:

  • Satisfaction of the optical and terahertz resonance-frequency requirement is a straightforward matter, inasmuch as the optical and terahertz spectra can be measured. However, satisfaction of the phase-matching requirement is more difficult. The approach followed in the present development is to perform computer simulations of the microwave and optical signals circulating in the resonator to test for phase matching.
  • To enable excitation of the terahertz WGM resonator mode, it is also necessary to ensure phase matching between that mode and the incoming terahertz radiation. In the present development, the incoming signal is coupled into the WGM resonator via a tapered waveguide in the form of a fused silica rod. The phase-matching requirement is satisfied at one point along the taper; the rod is positioned with this point in proximity to the WGM resonator.
  • To maximize the conversion efficiency, it is necessary to maximize the spatial overlap among the terahertz and optical modes in the WGM resonator. In the absence of a special design effort to address this issue, there would be little such overlap because, as a consequence of a large difference between wavelengths, the optical and terahertz modes would be concentrated at different depths from the rim of a WGM resonator. In the present development, overlap is ensured by constructing the WGM resonator as a ring (see figure) so thin that the optical and terahertz modes are effectively forced to overlap.

This work was done by Dmitry Strekalov, Anatoliy Savchenkov, Andrey Matsko, and Nan Yu of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. NPO-45508

Photonics Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the November, 2008 issue of Photonics Tech Briefs Magazine.

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