Photo of Tianxiang Nan

Computer & electronics hardware

Tianxiang Nan

Miniaturized the current antenna size over two orders of magnitude, helping make smartphones thinner

Year Honored

Tsinghua University


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Smartphones we use today use radio to transmit information over a long distance, and the antenna is the key component to transmitting and receiving radio. However, the design of traditional antennas is locked by some physical limitations, making it difficult to be integrated, which also greatly hinders the development of wireless electronic devices, biosensors, and the Internet of Things.

To be specific, traditional antennas rely on the vibration of electromagnetic waves, and the size of the antenna needs to match the wavelength of the electromagnetic waves, meaning that reducing its size will cause performance loss.

Dr. Tianxiang Nan takes a different approach. The miniaturized antenna he developed is a combination of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) and magnetoelectric thin film materials. The antenna is integrated on silicon wafers which no longer resonate with electromagnetic waves but radiate electromagnetic waves by the actuation of acoustic waves.

Because acoustic waves have a much smaller wavelength (as the acoustic wave velocity is much smaller than that of the light wave), the acoustic antenna he created, which operates at 2.5 GHz (frequency of Wi-Fi), miniaturizes the current antenna size over two orders of magnitudes, with the radiation efficiency 100 thousand times larger than that of current antennas with the same size.

Tianxiang’s paper published on Nature Communications has made a comparison: if the 2.5 GHz antenna were made using traditional methods, the size would be about 11 cm2; if it were made using the acoustic-driven mechanism, its size would only be 0.002 cm2.

This breakthrough is of great significance to the advancement of smartphones. The tiny antennas could reduce their size or make room for a larger battery. Compared with traditional antennas of the same size, MEMS antennas also have higher radiation transmission efficiency. It can be manufactured using integrated circuit technology and could be mass-produced shortly.

New antennas developed by Tianxiang also have broad application prospects due to their miniaturization, easy-to-integrate and cost-effective characteristics. It is predicted that by 2025, more than 75 billion mobile devices will be connected to the Internet of Things through antennas. Miniature antennas could truly bring revolutionary advancement to IoTs, wireless communications, wearable, and implantable biosensors.