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Heterodyne Detection with Superconducting Tunnel Diodes


Wengler, Michael James (1988) Heterodyne Detection with Superconducting Tunnel Diodes. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/TYQQ-RZ71.


Heterodyne receivers based on superconductor-insulator-superconductor (SIS) tunnel diodes are the most sensitive available for near-millimeter wavelengths. Since the late seventies, receivers based on SISs have been used for millimeter band observations at radio observatories around the world. The work described here was carried out with the elusive goal in mind of developing ideal SIS receivers for radioastronomy. This thesis describes one researcher's path towards this goal.

In the first chapter, a basic description of SIS diodes, their interaction with radiation, and heterodyne detection are given. The important detailed results of J. R. Tucker's tunnel diode heterodyne theory are described, since subsequent chapters rely on Tucker's work quite heavily. Throughout this introductory chapter, extremely simple (by comparison with the algebraic theoretical results) physical models are used to describe superconductivity, SISs, photon-assisted tunneling, and heterodyne detection. It is the author's experience that these physical models can be used to derive correct theoretical results, long before these results are proved rigorously.

The second chapter presents a fully quantum mechanical theory of heterodyne detection with diodes. This theory was developed because Tucker's theory for tunnel diodes predicts a greater mixer sensitivity than is possible considering Heisenberg's uncertainty principle for radiation. Tucker does not quantize the radiation incident on the SIS, although his treatment of the isolated tunnel diode is completely quantum mechanical. In chapter 2, the quantization of radiation is carried out for heterodyne diode detectors. The formalism is shown to obey quantum limits on sensitivity. Finally, an ideal SIS mixer is shown to have noise properties identical to those of optical mixers based on ideal photodiodes.

In possession of an apparently complete theory for SIS mixers, the third chapter presents a sampling of numerical results from that theory. Four different non-ideal tunnel diodes are used for these calculations so that a quantitative feel for the importance of diode quality can be achieved. The effects of dc and LO bias, signal and image source admittance, frequency of operation, and junction quality are all explored. This information will be useful for the proper engineering of SIS mixers. Finally, the fully optimized performance of the four tunnel diodes is presented as frequency is varied. It is shown that reasonably good quality lead-alloy SISs should behave like photodiodes up to frequencies as high as 1500 GHz.

Finally, chapter 4 presents a prototype open-structure SIS mixer. Measurements in the laboratory show this mixer to be quite sensitive for signal frequencies from 115 to 761 GHz. Unlike all other SIS receivers, in which the diode is mounted across a waveguide, this mixer relies on the bowtie-on-quartz antenna structure, which has been investigated by D. B. Rutledge and his students. This difference is essential to the multi-octave spectral coverage of this mixer. It is probable that waveguide designs will never achieve good results above 500 GHz, and as of now, there are no SIS-waveguide mixers which operate well above 300 GHz. Tests at the Owens Valley Radio Observatory verify the suitablility of this mixer for radioastronomy, but these tests have been limited to frequencies of 260 GHz and lower.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:SIS heterodyne mixer radioastronomy low-noise reciever superconducting tunnel junction
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Engineering and Applied Science
Major Option:Applied Physics
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Phillips, Thomas G.
Group:Astronomy Department
Thesis Committee:
  • Phillips, Thomas G. (chair)
  • Johnson, William Lewis
  • McGill, Thomas C.
  • Rutledge, David B.
  • Vahala, Kerry J.
Defense Date:5 June 1987
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Record Number:CaltechETD:etd-02012007-084647
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:435
Deposited By: Imported from ETD-db
Deposited On:09 Feb 2007
Last Modified:10 Mar 2020 23:01

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