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Harris Receives $8M DARPA Grant for MAGNETS

August 22, 2017

A Northeastern University team, in collaboration with its partners Qorvo, Inc., and Metamagnetics, Inc., will embark on a mission to “reinvent” the transmit/receive module (TRM)—a key component of every radar system—under an $8 million, 30-month grant recently awarded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), entitled “MAgnetics on GaN for Next GEneration T/R Systems (MAGNETS).”

Led by Vincent Harris, University Distinguished Professor and William Lincoln Smith Chair Professor, electrical and computer engineering, the Northeastern team will serve as materials integrator on the DARPA project, bringing together TRMs with gallium nitride (GaN), a high-efficiency semiconductor material considered the “gold standard” of next generation RF materials. Metamagnetics, a Northeastern spinout located in Westborough, Mass., will design key components while Qorvo, based in Richardson, Texas, will integrate TRM systems using Metamagnetics components built on Northeastern materials.

Officially known as “MAgnetics on GaN for Next GEneration T/R Systems” or MAGNETS, the project will focus on three areas: reducing TRM size (“miniaturization”), achieving higher frequencies and performing at high power, thus increasing heat, which can become a significant challenge.  

Harris notes that while most communication and sensing platforms use TRMs—for example, radar and mobile cell phone base stations—the technology has not changed significantly in more than 30 years. “Our work will allow us to break through the existing design paradigm—that is, discrete component TRM systems—and move to something that has never been done before: the TRM system on a GaN wafer,” he says.

A quantum leap in RF materials science

Building on its 25-year leadership in RF materials science, Northeastern is poised to “achieve a first,” says Harris. “We’re looking for a quantum leap in the redesign of the TRM by incorporating magnetic materials right from the start and building them into the system as integrated components.”

Harris and his team of doctoral students and PhD scientists are conducting their research at the University’s George J. Kostas Research Institute for Homeland Security (KRI) in Burlington, Mass., a 70,000 square-foot secure, state-of-the-art facility for interdisciplinary research in areas critical to national security.  

Potential customers/end users for this technology breakthrough include the aerospace and defense industry, Department of Defense and NASA. Providing high frequency operation and additional design space flexibility with a smaller size, lighter weight and lower profile while reducing cost, the new TRMs will offer significant benefits for a wide variety of military platforms such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, as well as a broad range of drones, miniature drones or space satellites and rockets.

“The TRM is at the heart of the radar as it interfaces with the antenna and signal processing components,” says Harris. “Incorporation of GaN allows us to put more power through the radar system. That means the radar can reach deeper into space, define threats earlier and allow for countermeasures. It will be able to identify threats more effectively, ultimately saving the lives of our troops.”

For more information, visit the Center for Microwave Magnetic Materials & Integrated Circuits and DARPA's Magnetic Miniaturized and Monolithically Integrated Components (M3IC).