A fundamental property for the first microwave amplifier in a radio receiver is its noise figure. This is normally given in decibel (dB). A typical noise figure for low-noise amplifiers in mobile communication systems is tenths of a decibel. Last year, Chalmers reported a world record for a low-noise amplifier that exhibited a minimum noise figure of 0.018 dB across a bandwidth of 4-8 GHz. However, since the low-noise amplifier was designed in a hybrid solution, scaling up to larger quantities turned out to be very difficult.
Chalmers has now in collaboration with a company called Low-Noise Factory published an article on an integrated ultra-low-noise amplifier. The scientists have developed a unique indium phosphide-based process for what is known as high electron mobility transistors (HEMT). Transistors and other semiconductor components have been fabricated on a monolithic chip on an indium phosphide wafer. All parts of the design such as semiconductor layers, components, process and circuit design have been optimised for the lowest noise performance. As a result, an integrated 2.0 x 0.75 mm amplifier with an ultra-low-noise figure of 0.045 dB was demonstrated. The amplifier had a very large bandwidth of 0.5-13 GHz and a high gain exceeding 38 dB across the frequency band. In order to show such extreme performance, the amplifier was cooled to minus 260 degrees of Celsius.