Sensitivity limits of millimeter-wave photonic radiometers based on efficient electro-optic upconverters

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Conventional ultra-high sensitivity detectors in the millimeter-wave range are usually cooled as their own thermal noise at room temperature would mask the weak received radiation. The need for cryogenic systems increases the cost and complexity of the instruments, hindering the development of, among others, airborne and space applications. In this work, the nonlinear parametric upconversion of millimeter-wave radiation to the optical domain inside high-quality (Q) lithium niobate whispering-gallery mode (WGM) resonators is proposed for ultra-low noise detection. We experimentally demonstrate coherent upconversion of millimeter-wave signals to a 1550 nm telecom carrier, with a photon conversion efficiency surpassing the state-of-the-art by 2 orders of magnitude. Moreover, a theoretical model shows that the thermal equilibrium of counterpropagating WGMs is broken by overcoupling the millimeter-wave WGM, effectively cooling the upconverted mode and allowing ultra-low noise detection. By theoretically estimating the sensitivity of a correlation radiometer based on the presented scheme, it is found that room-temperature radiometers with better sensitivity than state-of-the-art high-electron-mobility transistor (HEMT)-based radiometers can be designed. This detection paradigm can be used to develop room-temperature instrumentation for radio astronomy, earth observation, planetary missions, and imaging systems.
Bibliographic citation
Santamaría Botello, G., Sedlmeir, F., Rueda, A., Abdalmalak, K. A., Brown, E. R., Leuchs, G., Preu, S., Segovia-Vargas, D., Strekalov, D. V., García Muñoz, L. E. & Schwefel, H. G. L. (2018). Sensitivity limits of millimeter-wave photonic radiometers based on efficient electro-optic upconverters. Optica, 5(10), 1210.