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Liquid gallium metal
Dr Yan'gs phase shifter uses a liquid-metal Gallium alloy to control the phase shift

Dr Yi Wang from Birmingham’s School of Engineering has been shortlisted for Electronics Weekly’s University Research Project of the Year in the 2023 Elektra Award, which recognises the research project from the last year that readers believe will make the largest impact on the commercial market in the next five years.

He was shortlisted for a new ‘phase shifter’ technology that will reduce signal loss in antenna systems.

The phase shifter is a key enabling technology for advanced phased array antennas (PAA) which are widely used in mobile base stations, satellites and radar systems.

PAA systems use multiple phase shifters to steer the radiation beam, but current phase shifters typically use semiconductors and suffer from signal losses, which increase as the phase angle (angle of beam steer) increases. They also have relatively poor power handling capability.

Dr Wang’s research team set out to overcome these long-standing issues by designing a new type of phase shifter that controls the phase shift via a liquid-metal Gallium alloy material, which runs in microfluidic channels.

The team produced and tested a prototype, showing that the new phase shifter shows low signal losses, which are almost independent of phase angle, and published the results of prototype testing earlier this year in IEEE Transactions on Microwave Theory and Techniques.

The new liquid Gallium phase shifter does not need cleanroom facilities for fabrication, so is inexpensive to manufacture and potentially offers high power-handling capability. Dr Wang expects the phase shifter to find a wide range of uses in communications, radar and instruments, in addition to the signature application in phased array antennas.