Wireless technologies have become ubiquitous in the lives of most people, but there’s much more yet to be developed, say researchers at the recently opened Centre for Intelligent Antenna and Radio Systems at the University of Waterloo. The new $15-million facility has a series of interconnected indoor laboratories, including the visually striking Electromagnetic Radiation Lab, which features 10,000 foam spikes extending from the walls, ceilings and floor.
According to the university, the lab can study electromagnetic waves with the highest precision over the widest range of frequencies of any academic facility in the world. “The university wanted a national facility where Canada could compete at an international level,” says Sujeet Chaudhuri, an electrical and computer engineering professor at Waterloo.
The foam spikes are designed to completely absorb reflections of sound and electromagnetic waves. This makes it possible to analyze the electromagnetic fields radiated by objects as tiny as a strand of hair or as big as an automobile.
Pearl Sullivan, dean of engineering at Waterloo, says she hopes the facility will interest undergraduate students to pursue careers in wireless-communications research. “We have to get young students inspired about research. Canada needs experts in rapidly moving high technology fields such as this so we do not fall behind as a technological leader.”
Researchers and students will use the lab to investigate everything from next-generation wireless communications to car radar, mobile health, satellite communication, nano-sensors and smart devices. One of the most interesting aspects of the lab, says Dr. Chaudhuri, is that it lets researchers explore electromagnetic waves in the terahertz range, which occupies a middle ground between microwaves and infrared light waves. “There’s very little technology and few applications that exist in that terahertz gap – it’s totally uncharted,” he says.