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Title: Structure and optimisation of liquid crystal based phase shifter for millimetre-wave applications
Author: Li, Jinfeng
ISNI:       0000 0004 7660 8530
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2019
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The delivery of tunable millimetre-wave components at 60GHz is of research and development interests with the advent of 5G era. Among applications such as high-data-rate wireless communications, high-precision automotive radars and hand-gesture sensing, variable phase shifters are vital components for antenna arrays to steer an electromagnetic beam without mechanical movement. However, present microwave technology has limited scope in meeting more and more stringent requirements in wavefront phase control and device performance for those cutting-edge applications in the millimetre-wavelength range. Although some existing microwave switchable techniques (such as RF MEMS and solid-state p-i-n diodes) can offer ultra-fast speed for phase modulation, their binary beam-steering nature is resolution-limited and thereby degrades the beam-scanning performance. In response to this, continuously-tunable phase shifting can be realised by using tunable dielectric materials such as ferroelectric BST and liquid crystals (LCs). BST thin films can offer relatively fast switching and modest tunability. However, the increased dielectric loss beyond 10GHz impedes their implementation for higher frequency applications. By comparison, liquid crystals (LCs) have drawn attention in recent years because of their continuous tunability as well as low losses especially at millimetre-wavebands. The principle of shifting the phase continuously is based on the shape anisotropy of LC molecules for variable polarizabilities and hence tunable dielectric constants, which allows wave speed to be controlled with ease by a low-frequency field of only up to 10V. However, LC-based tunable delay lines are not well established in the frequency regime of 60GHz-90GHz because of the limited status of LC microwave technology in which most of the LC based devices have been designed for below 40GHz. It is the aim of this PhD research to bridge the gap and address future societal needs based on our group's focus and experience in developing cutting-edge LC-based agile microwave components. In this work, a liquid crystal (LC) based 0-180˚continuously-variable phase shifter is developed with insertion loss less than -4.4dB and return loss below -15dB across a wide spectrum from 54GHz to 67GHz. The device is driven by a 0-10V AC bias and structured in a novel enclosed coplanar waveguide (ECPW) including an enclosed ground plate in the design, which significantly reduces the instability due to floating effects of the transmission line. This structure screens out interference and stray modes, allowing resonance-free quasi-TEM wave propagation up to 90GHz. The tunable ECPW is optimised by competing spatial volume distribution of the millimetre-wave signal occupying lossy tunable dielectrics versus low-loss but non-tunable dielectrics and minimising the total of dielectric volumetric loss and metal surface loss for a fixed phase-tuning range. A variety of influences affecting the actual device performance are studied, experimented and optimised. Fabricated prototypes exhibit wideband low-loss performance and 0-π continuous tuning with low power consumptions and high linearity compared with the state-of-the-arts. Potentially, the ECPW-fed phased antenna array will be incorporated with advanced beam-forming algorithms to develop compact beam-steering systems of improved performances and targeted for ultra-high-data-rate wireless communications, inter-satellite communications, current road safety improvement, futuristic autonomous driving, and other smart devices such as the hand-gesture recognition.
Supervisor: Chu, Daping Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: liquid crystal ; millimetre-wave ; phase shifter ; phased array antenna ; 60GHz ; tunable delay line ; beam steering ; coplanar waveguide ; CPW ; tunable dielectrics ; 5G