Intellectual Merit: Lightweight integrated Radio-Frequency (RF) front ends in mobile communications and radar systems require adequate RF power, tuning capability and low cost. Yet, the demand for multi-function operation inevitably increases circuit densities leading to higher heat production. Integrated tuning with RF electronics exists; however, cooling solutions are developed separately and incorporated in a back-end post-assembly process that results in larger heavier systems that are costly. Tunable RF electronic technology platforms with integrated cooling systems are needed to satisfy growing mobile application requirements. However, they have not been successfully integrated into lightweight, low-cost materials that offer suitable high performance. This collaborative research project between the University of Minnesota and the Georgia Institute of Technology seeks to develop an all-in-one RF electronics and wireless communication/radar system with integrated tuning and cooling designs, using a 3-D System-on-a-Package (SOP) approach for RF front-ends. Low cost Liquid Crystal Polymer (LCP) organic substrates that can be laminated will be used to develop for the first time integrated microfluidic channel designs for heat removal and/or RF tuning. The objectives are (1) to understand dielectric fluids use for tuning in printed RF circuits while offering simultaneous cooling, (2) to develop designs/circuit models that describe RF and thermal interactions in RF designs with fluid interfaces, and (3) to demonstrate feasibility by creating an RF power amplifier circuit with co-integrated tuning/cooling approach with a microfluidic systems in organic polymer substrates.
Broader Impacts: The 21st century RF mobile electronics market continues to grow at unprecedented rates. Thus, RF electronics can potentially consume enormous amounts of energy and produce significant amounts of hardware waste due to frequent upgrades if design approaches to minimize or alleviate hardware failure and extend hardware lifetimes though reconfiguration are not developed. The outcomes of this research can slow down such trends and therefore reduce environmental waste production caused by disposed electronics. This research combines RF electronics with microfluidics technology to provide a rich training experience for the next generation of students and researchers working on complex integrated systems that can preserve the environment. The educational effort will provide energy awareness from RF electronics and involve developing strong ties with local K-12 schools in Atlanta and Minneapolis, active minority student participation (i.e. K-12 and undergrad level), collaborations with K-12 educators to develop suitable age appropriate curriculum/demonstrations, and presentation talks/events to educate the public on energy use and consumptions in wireless devices.