For the first time, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, have succeeded in capturing and digitizing electrical signals at the rate of 1 trillion times per second, a discovery that may allow physicists to peer into the fundamental building blocks of nature and eventually help scientists develop defenses against high-powered microwave weapons attacks. The breakthrough was announced at the APS March Meeting in Los Angeles.
UCLA professor Bahram Jalali and graduate researcher Yan Han developed the digitizer, which captures lightning-quick waveforms 40 times faster than the best commercially available digitizers. Most researchers in recent years have focused on speeding up the digitizer itself; Jalali and Han chose to slow down the electrical waveforms using a novel optical time-dilation processor, and then digitize the pulses at picosecond intervals.
Measurement of electrical waveforms is needed in virtually every field of engineering and science. Among the potential applications being studied is the development of defenses against the microwave “e-bomb,” in which a burst of electromagnetic energy is created and directed at an electronics system, burning it out. The UCLA researchers also showed that the resulting time elasticity can be used to perform time compression and time reversal, capabilities with potential application in advanced radar systems.
The UCLA approach could also benefit particle physics, since the technique would allow physicists to capture the smashing of particles, and by analyzing that instant, peer into the most fundamental building blocks of nature on the smallest scale. RadiaBeam Technologies LLC in Los Angeles has already begun licensing negotiations with UCLA for the patents that led to the breakthrough. The plan is to commercialize the technology into a laboratory tool for high-energy physics.
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