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TUNABLE PATCH ANTENNA USING A LIQUID CRYSTAL SUBSTRATE

Ranjan Bose] and A/oka Sinha


Department of Electrical Engineering
l
and Department of Physics
2
,
lIT Delhi, Hauz Khas, New Delhi, INDIA -110016
Phone: +91-11-26591048, Fax: +91-11-26581606, Email: rbose@ee.iitd.ac.in
Keywords: Tunable Patch Antenna, Liquid Crystal
ABSTRACT
Patch antennas are attractive in many mobile
communication applications since they are light-weight
and simple to manufacture. However, the traditional patch
antenna suffers from narrowfrequency bandwidth. In this
paper, we propose the use ofa liquid crystal substratefor a
patch antenna whose frequency can be tuned by changing
the biasing voltage across the substrate. It has been found
by simulations that by varying the biasing voltage from 0 V
through 11 the operatingfrequency ofthe circular patch
antenna can be varied from 1.08 GHz through 2.35 GHz.
We have also proposed two novel applications for such
tunable antennas: (i) antenna based modulation (ARM) and
(ii) antenna basedfrequency diversity (ABFD).
1. INTRODUCTION
Modem printed circuit fabrication techniques have made it
possible to build low profile antennas that are extremely
useful. Such antennas are referred to as microstrip or
printed circuit antennas [1]. A microstrip antenna is made
up of two parallel conductors that are separated by a
dielectric substrate, as shown in Figure 1. The lower
conductor usually acts as a ground plane and the upper
conductor is a patch, which is why such antennas are also
called patch antennas. The patch can be of various shapes
such as rectangular, circular, square, elliptical, dipole and
triangular among others. Patch antennas are inherently
resonant antennas characterized by extremely low
bandwidths. In addition, they are usually light in weight
and easy to install because of which they are frequently
used in mobile-phones, aircraft, satellite and missile
applications. Simplicity, low manufacturing cost and the
flexibility to configure to specialized geometries are some
of the other advantages of patch antennas [2].
The traditional patch antenna suffers from low efficiency
and narrow frequency bandwidth. Thus, improved patch
antenna designs have been pursued for many years. One
part of the patch antenna that can be optimized is the
substrate [3]. This can be done by designing different
regions with constant permittivity [4]. Patch antennas on
inhomogeneous substrate with the permittivity
continuously varying with the height coordinate have been
1-4244-1539-Xl08/$25.00 2008 IEEE
proposed in [5, 6]. These antennas show improved
bandwidth and directivity. Patch antenna with
inhomogeneous dielectric substrate has also been
investigated in [7] under the assumption of a fixed current
distribution on the patch. In all these approaches the
permittivity of the substrate varies along the thickness of
the substrate. In effect, the behavior of the patch antenna
with inhomogeneous substrate can be approximated by a
homogeneous substrate with the effective value of the
permittivity, &eff. The reported increase in the bandwidth of
such patch antennas is marginal. Recently, tunable
ferroelectric antennas for fixed frequency scanning
applications have also been proposed where the scan angle
is varied using a bias voltage [8].
In this paper we propose a technique that allows us to
design and construct a tunable patch antenna whose
resonance frequency can be varied using a bias voltage. By
tunability we imply that the same antenna can be tuned to
resonate (hence radiate) over a range of frequencies. Such
tunable antenna technology will be an enabler for software
defined radios (SDR). The paper is organized as follows.
In Section 2 we describe the patch antenna, with the liquid
crystal substrate, used to demonstrate the concept. In
Section 3 we explain the modeling of the liquid crystal
substrate. The experimentally measured capacitance values
of an actual Ferroelectric Liquid Crystal cell is used in this
paper. Section gives the simulation results for a circular
patch antenna on a Liquid Crystal substrate. Beside the
obvious application in SDRs, we propose two novel
applications of the tunable patch antennas in Section 5.
The paper concludes in Section 6.
2. ANTENNA DESCRIPTION
For the sake of illustration we have considered a circular
patch antenna. The resonance frequency, j,., of a circular
patch antenna is given by [1]
1.
J (l)
where c 3 xl 0
8
mis, r is the radius of the patch and is
the permittivity. In order to achieve tunability of the
resonance frequency, we use a suitable liquid crystal (LC)
as the substrate material. By varying the dc bias voltage
across the LC substrate, the of the LC changes [9]. The
change in the value of leads to the change in the
resonance frequency of the patch antenna. It should be
noted that upon applying the bias voltage, the permittivity
of the cylinder underneath the circular patch differs from
the permittivity of the remainder of the substrate. Figure 2
shows a typical profile of the relative permittivity for a
patch antenna with a LC substrate with a certain bias
voltage. Our proposed LC based patch antenna differs
from the earlier patch antennas on inhomogeneous
substrates in the following two key aspects:
(i) For our case while for the other cases
where is the height coordinate along the thickness
of the substrate.
(ii) For our case the resonance frequency can be tuned
using a bias voltage while for the other cases the
resonance frequency of the patch antenna is fixed.
For our tunable antenna, the total voltage (VIOl) on the
patch comprises of the dc biasing voltage
bias
) and the
information bearing small-signal voltage (Vsig) that actually
excites the antenna. Thus,
where, Cdc is the permittivity at zero bias voltage and is
the variance. The Gaussian fit with Cdc = 11.859 and =
25 is also plotted in Figure 4 using the dotted line. From (1)
and (4) we obtain
)J::a;) (5)
2nrF:
From (5) we note that the resonance frequency of the
antenna varies as ~ e V b ~ a s with the bias voltage. Using (5)
and the calculated permittivity values (Figure 4), we obtain
the range of resonance frequencies over which the LC
based circular patch antenna can be tuned. This is shown
in Figure 5. Thus, it is possible to vary the operating
frequency of the same circular patch antenna from 1.1098
GHz through 2.7184 GHz simply by varying the biasing
voltage from 0 V through 11 V across its LC substrate. We
have also plotted (using dotted line) the theoretical f,.
obtained using the Gaussian fit.
3. MODELING THE LIQUID CRYSTAL
SUBSTRATE
As a specific example, we analyze a circular patch antenna
on a ferroelectric liquid crystal (FLC) substrate. The
characteristics of this FLC are listed in Table I. A patch
antenna on a liquid crystal substrate is easy to construct.
Effectively, it is a liquid crystal cell filled with an
appropriate liquid crystal mixture and a metal contact of a
desired shape, serving as the patch.
The experimentally measured values of the capacitance (in
nF) of the FLC cell as a function of the applied voltage
across the cell is plotted in Figure 3. The cell thickness
was 1.4 Jlm and the ITO electrode area was 4 cm
2

Treating the LC cell as a parallel plate capacitor, we have


C (3)
4. SIMULATION RESULTS
Simulations were carried out on actual circular patch
antenna geometries to verify our claim. We have modeled
the circular patch antenna using the software CST
Microwave Studio, which is a 3D electromagnetic field
simulation software. The patch antenna geometry is shown
in Figure 6. The scattering parameter SII for bias voltages
OV, 3V, 6V and 10V are plotted in Figure 7. SII represents
the return loss of the antenna, and the trough in the S11 plot
is indicative of the resonance frequency of the antenna [1].
The results from actual antenna simulations along with the
theoretically predicted values are listed in Table II. We
observe from the table that the resonance frequency values
obtained from actual antenna simulations are lower than the
theoretically predicted values, though the values match
much better at low V
bias
' This is because the f,. calculated
using (1) assumes a constant value of the permittivity of the
substrate while for actual antenna simulations, the
dielectric cylinder underneath the circular patch is
surrounded by a material of higher permittivity. We have
also listed the maximum radiated power (in dBi), where
dBi is with reference to an isotropic antenna.
Let us define the fractional bandwidth of the tunable
antenna as
B fmax - fmin Af (6)
where, fmax is the maximum resonant frequency, fmin is the
minimum resonant frequency andIe is the center frequency
of operation. For the tunable patch antenna discussed in
Table II, B =(2.35 -1.08)/1.71 0.74 or 74%.
(2)
(4)
VIOl bias sig
where C is the capacitance of the LC cell, is the
permittivity of the free space, is the permittivity of the
dielectric, A is the area of the plate (in our case the ITO
electrode area) and d is the thickness of the cell. Using (3),
the permittivity of the LC cell is calculated for different
V
bias
and plotted in Figure 4. From the figure we observe
that the values of the permittivity of the LC filled parallel
plate capacitor, as a function of the bias voltage
bias
) is
approximately Gaussian. Thus, we can write
_(V
7as
)
()
20-2
~ i a s Gdc
e
5. TWO NOVEL APPLICATIONS
In this section we describe two novel applications of the
tunable patch antenna. The first application is an antenna
based modulator (ABM) which can carry out Frequency
Shift Keying (FSK). As opposed to the traditional
communication systems where the modulator block is
separate from the antenna, here we propose to use the
antenna as a modulator as well. Using the tunable patch
antenna, the bias voltage can be used to select the
frequency that is transmitted in accordance with a given
data stream. Let the input waveform to the antenna be
vet) Ai cos(27r/;t)
bias
(t)
i=O
where Ai is a constant scale factor and is lh frequency of
the M-ary FSK. The bias voltage, Vbiait) , takes discrete
values and is changed according to the input bit-stream in
order to tune the antenna at the desired Thus, for a
particular value of Vbiai t), only one particular frequency is
transmitted thereby carrying out the MFSK modulation.
The second application of tunable patch antenna is to
mitigate fading by using frequency diversity. Let two input
waveforms to the antenna, at different instances in time, be
VI (t) met)
bias
and
2
(t) met) COS(2Jif2t )
bias
where m(t) is the message signal, V
bias
corresponds to the
bias voltage resulting in the resonance frequency
bias
corresponds to the bias voltage resulting in the resonance
frequency ii, and the frequencies andii are chosen such
that = ii the coherence bandwidth of the
channel. Since the frequencies are separated by a band
greater than the coherence bandwidth of the channel, they
will fade independently [10]. This example can be
extended to independently fading carriers to provide
diversity of order Thus, the tunable patch antenna can
be used for antenna based frequency diversity (ABFD).
6. CONCLUSION
We have proposed, for the first time, a tunable patch
antenna with a liquid crystal substrate. The operating
frequency of this patch antenna can be tuned simply by
changing the biasing voltage across the substrate. It has
been shown that the resonance frequency of the tunable
antenna varies as -.; with the bias voltage. We have
carried out simulations using actual patch antenna
geometries and experimentally measured permittivity
values of a ferroelectric liquid crystal substrate. The
simulation results agree well with the theoretically
predicted values. The proposed technique is simple,
practical and has far-reaching consequence in the area of
wireless communications. We have also described two
novel applications of such tunable antennas: (i) antenna
based modulation (ABM) and (ii) antenna based frequency
diversity (ABFD).
REFERENCES
[1] C.A. Balanis, Antenna Theory: Analysis and Design,
John Wiley Sons, 1997.
[2] W.L. Stutzman and G.A.Thiele, Antenna Theory and
Design, John Wiley Sons, 1998.
[3] N. G. Alexopoulos, P. B. Katehi, and D. Rutledge,
"Substrate Optimization for Integrated Circuit Antennas,"
IEEE Trans. Microwave Theory Tech., Volume 83, Issue 7,
Jul. 1983. pp. 550 - 557.
[4] C. S. Lee, V. Nalbandian and F. Schwering, "Dual-
frequency microstrip antenna with inhomogeneously filled
dielectric substrate," Microwave Opt. Techn. Lett., vol. 6,
No. 11, 1993,pp.629-632.
[5] L. Vegni, F. Bilotti and A. Toscano, "Microstrip disk
antennas with inhomogeneous artificial dielectrics," J.
Electro. Waves Applic., vol. 14, No.9, 2000. pp. 1203-
1227.
[6] A. Toscano and L. Vegni, "Full-wave analysis of planar
stratified media with inhomogeneous layers," IEEE Trans.
Antennas Propagat., Volume 48, Issue 4, April 2000. pp.
631-633.
[7] G. Kristensson, P. Waller and A. Derneryd, Technical
Report LUTEDX/(TEAT-7100)/1--48/(2001), Lund
Institute of Technology, Department of Electroscience, P.O.
Box 118, S-221 00 Lund, Sweden, 2001.
http://www.es.1th.se.
[8] G. Lovat, P. Burghignoli and S. Celozzi, "A Tunable
Ferroelectric Antenna for Fixed-Frequency Scanning
Applications," IEEE Ant. and Wireless Prop. Let., vol. 5,
2006, pp. 353-356.
[9] L.M. Blinov, E.P. Pozhidaev, F.V. Podgornov, S.A.
Pikin, S.P. Palto, A. Sinha, A. Yasuda, S. Hashimoto and
W. Haase, " 'Thresholdless' hysteresis-free switching as an
apparent phenomenon of surface stabilized ferroelectric
liquid crystal cell," Physical Review E, vol. 66, 21701,
2002.
[10] T. S. Rappaport, Wireless Communications: Principles
and Practice, 2
nd
Ed., Prentice-Hall, New York, 2001.
Table II. Resonance frequency values for the tunable
. I h d'ffj b'
clrcu ar patc antenna or erent las vo ages.
Theoretical Actual antenna
Bias Values simulations
Voltage using Max.
(V) from the (GHz) Radiated
Eq. Gaussian Power
fit (dBi)
(GHz) (GHz)
0 1.1098 1.1098 1.08 4.84
3 1.2157 1.2143 1.19 5.18
6 1.8328 1.5907 1.72 5.96
10 2.4816 3.0167 2.22 6.61
11 2.7184 3.7217 2.35 6.73
Table I. Characteristics of the FLC.
Attribute Value
Transition Cr-l0C-SmC-58C-
Temperatures SmA-80C-Iso
Polarization 100 nC/cm
2
Tilt angle 23.5 deg
Viscosity 0.7 Poise
z
Patch
(metal) Substrate
(dielectric)
z
Ground
~
-------LbJ-----
Figure I - Cross section of a patch antenna Figure 2 - A typical profile of the permittivity for a
patch antenna with an LC substrate and a bias voltage.
10 -10
4
oo.....- ..a.- -'--
2
8
10 ': :- .
10 -10
1. J. .
25 _L_ -1
..
.......l.. _ .l.. .
.1' t"
O'-----------..a.---.........--------'

OJ
(J
c
$ 15
0-
o 10
Figure 3 - Measured values of the capacitance (in nF) of the FLC
cell as a function of the applied voltage across the cell with
thickness d 1.4Ilm.
Figure 4 - Calculated values of the permittivity of the FLC cell as
a function of the applied voltage across the cell and the Gaussian
fit with (j 5 (dotted curve).
dim.... in mrn
10 -10
1L....-_...I--_--..L-__L....-_-'--_.......L.._-...J
o, , , , .. " ..
0 ,

3 : ,,,,, .. , , , : , ...
c
2.5 ,..11'\- ,,, : ( : ,,; tI\ ...
u:
2 .. ,; .. "" ",,, .. ; ; .. ; .. ;.. , ...
o

Figure 5 - Resonance frequencies as a function of the bias voltage.


The dotted line represents the predicted values from the Gaussian
fit.
Figure 6 - The geometry of the circular patch antenna modeled
using CST Microwave Studio.
V
bias
= 0 V
J,. 1.08 GHz
V
bias
3 V
J,. = 1.19 GHz
V
bias
6 V
J,. = 1.72 GHz
V
bias
= 10 V
J,. = 2.22 GHz
V
bias
11 V
J,. 2.35 GHz
Figure 7 - The Sll (return loss) plots for
bias
=OV, 3V, 6V, IOV and IIV obtained from actual antenna simulations
of the circular patch antenna with FLC substrate.