Magnetic materials could help expand the capabilities of traditional electronic components, but they have not been widely adopted yet. A new $26 million DARPA program called Magnetic, Miniaturized, and Monolithically Integrated Components (M3IC) aims to integrate miniaturized magnetic components with chip-based radio frequency (RF) systems to help meet growing military and civilian demands for new tools as the electromagnetic spectrum becomes crowded.
RF signal processing has been the go-to technology for years, but some signal processing functions can be achieved by manipulating magnetic fields. However, magnetic components are difficult to miniaturize and integrate onto chips. Their magnetic fields can interfere with electronic circuitry, so designers usually have to keep magnetic components separate, which leads to bulky and inefficient systems.
The M3IC program is tackling three main challenges:
- To develop techniques for growing and patterning nearly flawless films of magnetic materials on semiconductor wafers while preserving the properties of both the magnetic materials and the semiconductor microcircuitry.
- To develop the field- and circuit-modeling software necessary for accurate and efficient design of integrated magnetic devices.
- To use the new materials and modeling tools to devise and deliver new and improved electromagnetic functionality in smaller, power-efficient packages.
If these challenges can be overcome, DARPA’s program will improve the design and performance of existing magnetic components, such as circulators and frequency selective limiters (FSLs), and it will lead to new magnetics-enabled RF-processing technologies. RF devices are becoming more common everywhere, which increases the risk of interference, but FSLs can help. Dev Palmer, program manager for M3IC explains:
These limiters, or FSLs, filter out signals that are intentionally or unintentionally trying to jam your reception or damage your receiver. But unlike current receiver protection systems, which work by means of complex sense-analyze-and-actuate loops, FSLs achieve that goal in a much simpler way, as a natural result of their magnetic physics. The ability to produce and integrate miniaturized, power-efficient, interference-management directly onto the billions of RF-involved chips of the future could become a real game changer.