The last 20 years have witnessed a remarkable growth in the field of THz frequency science and engineering, which has matured into a vibrant international research area. The modern THz field arguably began with the development of a pulsed (single-cycle) THz emitter - the semiconductor photoconductive switch - and the subsequent development of THz time-domain spectroscopy (TDS). Since then, considerable success has been achieved in the further development of this and other THz sources, including the uni-travelling carrier (UTC) photodiode and the quantum cascade laser (QCL). However, notwithstanding this, it is only the THz-TDS technology that has been developed sufficiently for commercialization as a complete system, leaving other THz devices, components and techniques still restricted to the academic laboratory. This is unfortunate, since despite the success of THz-TDS, the technique has a number of shortcomings including its high fs-laser dominated cost, low power, and limited frequency and spatial resolution, which could be addressed by QCL and UTC technologies if they were to be engineered into appropriate instruments.
In fact, a cursory comparison with the neighbouring microwave and optical regions of the spectrum reveals that THz frequency science and technology is still in its infancy, and not just in the context of commercial uptake. For example, the THz region significantly lags in the availability of precision spectroscopy instrumentation required to address sharp spectral features inherent to gases, for example, in atmospheric analysis, or in materials with long excited state lifetimes. THz technology also significantly lags in the fields of non-linear spectroscopy and coherent control, where powerful and controlled pulses of electromagnetic radiation interact with matter and manipulate its properties. In the optical and microwave regions, fascinating phenomena including electron-spin resonance and nuclear magnetic resonance were major breakthroughs, revealing a wealth of new science and engineering applications. These techniques, now standard across many disciplines, support much contemporary research and technology activity.
A further example of how THz technology compares unfavourably with other spectral ranges is in the context of THz microscopy and analysis below the diffraction limit, which intrinsically restricts such measurements to ensemble sampling of physical properties averaged over the size, structure, orientation and density of, for example, nanoparticles, nanocrystals or nanodomains. Although near-field imaging approaches have been adapted from the visible/infrared regions enabling THz measurements on the micro/nano-scale, no THz instrument currently provides the required spatial resolution and sensitivity, nor can address the enormous range of length-scales (spanning five orders of magnitude from electron confinement lengths (<10 nm) to the THz wavelength (~300 um)), nor can operate at cryogenic temperatures. In fact, on this point, the THz field is deficient even in the provision of basic technologies such as waveguides and coupling optics required to deliver THz signals with low loss into cryostats or industrial apparatus.
In this programme we will create the first comprehensive instrumentation for precise THz frequency spectroscopy, microscopy, and coherent control. This will be based upon our unique and proprietary capabilities to generate, and manipulate photonically, THz signals of unprecedentedly narrow (Hz) linewidth and with sub-wavelength spatial resolution. The instrumentation will then be exploited to create new challenge-led applications in non-destructive testing and spectroscopic analysis for electronics and atmospheric sensing, inter alia, as well as discovery-led opportunities within physics, quantum technologies, materials science, atmospheric chemistry and astronomy.