Terahertz technology

One way to rectify laser pulses is by generating a surge of current. The generated terahertz electrical field is proportional to the time derivative of the current. The most common method for generating terahertz radiation uses a semiconductor antenna: a femtosecond laser excites electrons in the conduction band where they are accelerated by an external DC electric field (~10 kV/cm).

In our lab, we are developing radically different methods of generating ultrafast electrical currents. Metal nanostructures are designed allowing our lasers to excite surface plasmons. These surface plasmons concentrate fields and push electrons out of the metal. The resultant current surge produces terahertz radiation.


Nanotechnology leads to new terahertz-radiation sources

Nano balls



A new process has been discovered producing pulsed terahertz-radiation using a nano-engineered material. Terahertz (or millimeter-wave) radiation is important to homeland security by being able to detect explosives, drugs, and concealed weapons.

A nanostructured surface was made with grooves in glass and a few nanometers of gold deposited on top. This was specifically designed such that ultrashort laser pulses could whip up waves in the sea of electrons present in the metal. The nanostructures have the property that they concentrate the waves in the electron sea to great strengths leading to extreme nonlinear phenomena. In our case, the concentrated waves fling electrons out of the gold layer resulting in ultrashort bursts of electricity rushing out of the structure. These bursts of electricity emit terahertz radiation much like a modern version of Heinrich Hertz’ 1886 experiment scaled down in size by a billion times and in time by a trillion. Our work was a proof of principle experiment but already produced as much terahertz radiation as the best nonlinear optical crystals and could lead to commercial applications.


Click on the thumbnails below for a bigger version and caption:

Gregor holding nanostructured surface Nanostructure in holder

Nanostructured surface Self-assembled nanostructure

Nanowire forrest



The Flash animation below explains the process by which terahertz radiation is generated. A 100-femtosecond laser pulse strikes the nanostructure under a specific angle allowing it to couple with surface plasmons. Surface plasmons in the gold layer concentrate the fields causing electrons to be pushed out in ultrafast (femtosecond) bursts. These ultrafast electric currents then emit terahertz radiation.

Content on this page requires a newer version of Adobe Flash Player.

Get Adobe Flash player


Terahertz radiation (or millimetre waves, with a frequency of 1012 Hz) consists of light waves with a wavelength in between microwaves and normal infrared radiation. Terahertz radiation can be used for imaging of concealed objects such as weapons, medical imaging, and the detection of certain chemicals such as explosives and drugs. All objects at room temperature emit a continuous stream of terahertz radiation. We are particularly interested in terahertz pulses with a duration around a picosecond (10-12 s). Such ultrashort pulses are important for fundamental studies of novel materials, the study of biological processes, and particle accelerators. The generation and application of terahertz pulses has been studied intensely for the past 10 years or so with now about 500 publications a year. The Strathclyde group led by Klaas Wynne has been working in this area since 1996.

Our new contribution (published in Physical Review Letters) is that we have discovered an entirely new process by which picosecond terahertz pulses are produced using a nano-engineered material. A nanostructured surface – consisting of a shallow glass grating with a 50-nanometre thick layer of gold – was designed to couple visible femtosecond (10-15 s) laser pulses to plasmons on the surface of the gold. (Wiki on surface plasmon resonance) Surface plasmons are nanometre scale waves in the sea of electrons in a metal. The nanostructures have the property that they can concentrate laser and plasmon fields to enormous strengths leading to extreme nonlinear phenomena. In our case, the concentrated fields push electrons out of the metal and out of the entire nanostructure. This gives rise to a femtosecond burst of electricity rushing out of the structure. The burst of electricity emits radiation at terahertz frequencies much like a modern ultrafast version of Heinrich Hertz’ 1886 experiment scaled down in size by a billion times. (Wiki on Hertz)

The experiment was a proof of principle experiment but already produced as much terahertz radiation as one of the best nonlinear optical crystals (ZnTe) and could be commercialised. The research group is now making nanostructured surfaces using self-assembly techniques in a quest to find even better terahertz emitters.

Further details

The paper is: Gregor H. Welsh, Neil T. Hunt, and Klaas Wynne, ‘Terahertz-Pulse Emission through Laser Excitation of Surface Plasmons in a Metal Grating’, Physical Review Letters 98, 026803 (2007). Local copy of PDF.

Also see: J. Zawadzka, D.A. Jaroszynski, J.J. Carey, K. Wynne, "Evanescent-wave acceleration of ultrashort electron pulses", Appl. Phys. Lett. 79, 2130-2132 (2001)   [abstract]   [doi:10.1063/1.1406562]   [local copy of PDF]  

The work was supported by grants from EPSRC and the Leverhulme Trust. The work was performed in the Wolfson Nanometrology Laboratory, which is part of the Biomolecular & Chemical Physics group at Strathclyde (BCP,, and in the Strathclyde Electron and Terahertz to Optical Pulse Source (TOPS,


11 May 2007: Our work on terahertz emission from gold coated gratings was picked up by and was published in Optics & Laser Europe.

 24 April 2007: Oh no, we're in the Daily Record as well: a very short story yesterday and in a column by Bob Shields (his html column is here and a scan of the newspaper article is here). Quite fun to be referred to as a boffin... now if we actually worked on X-ray specs we could send a pair to Bob.

23 April 2007: A press-release came out on the Strathclyde website on our terahertz work using nanostructured surfaces. The press release was also taken up by the Technology Scotland website. The Interference Technology website picked it up under the title Terahertz Pulse Research Could Boost Homeland Security and Medical Imaging. Finally, it also appeared on the Scottish Enterprise website as Boost for medical imaging

T-rays goggles22 April 2007: Our terahertz work was "featured" in the Sunday Times (300kB, jpg) of 22 April. Unfortunately, it seems they think we work on T-ray (or even X-ray) specs... How they got human rights linked to it, who the hell knows?



Terahertz spectroscopy



Small molecules or the side-chains of larger molecules (such as proteins) tend to flop about with a period of about 1 ps corresponding to a frequency of 1 THz (terahertz). This is rather important. Chemical and biological reactions take place on a similar timescale for the very simple reason that they are controlled by terahertz fluctuations in the solvent surrounding them. Unfortunately, terahertz spectra in the condensed phase are rather “blobby” (see below) leading some people to refer to their study as blob-spectroscopy (which is a bit rude, really). We take two approaches to these blobs: very very careful measurements and nonlinear spectroscopy.


The far-infrared spectrum of liquid water up to 20 THz taken in our lab using an FTIR spectrometer (1 THz = 30 cm-1). The motions producing this spectrum are diffusive reorientation (< 30 cm-1), hydrogen bond bending and stretching (60 and 180 cm-1), and single-molecule libration (~500 cm-1).

Terahertz spectroscopy

Terahertz spectra can be measured very accurately using linear spectroscopy. A technique is called “linear” if it measures a two-point correlation function that depends on only one time difference. For example, infrared (terahertz) spectroscopy measures the two-point correlation function of the dipole moment: <µ(0)µ(t)>. Unfortunately, detecting far-infrared radiation is noisy. Therefore, we do our most careful measurements using the optical Kerr effect (OKE), which measures the correlation function of the polarisability tensor: <α(0)α(t)>.

OKE is a pump-probe technique that uses very short (~20 fs) near-infrared (800 nm) laser pulses. A pump pulse makes the sample slightly anisotropic by aligning molecules using their polarisability. The probe pulse measures the decay of this anisotropy as a result of rotations, librations, and diffusion. We can now take signals from a few femtoseconds to a few nanosecond corresponding to frequencies <1 GHz to ~20 THz.

OKE spectra of N-methyl acetamide at various temperatures.

  • June 2014: Our paper "Terahertz underdamped vibrational motion governs protein-ligand binding in solution" came out in Nature Communications. The University published a news item Proteins ‘ring like bells’, which was taken up by Science Daily and a bunch of other news outlets. Strangely, it was also picked up by a creationist website who thought it was proof of design. The best write up was on an Austrina site Späte Bestätigung für Erwin Schrödinger? For the paper itself see here.
  • May 2014: Our paper "Stokes-Einstein-Debye Failure in Molecular Orientational Diffusion: Exception or Rule?" finally came out in J .Phys. Chem. B, see It truely has the loveliest Kerr-effect/Raman data I have ever seen.
  • 21 February 2014: Dr Gopakumar (Gopa) Ramakrishna officially started at Research Assistant in the group. Gopa will concentrate on terahertz spectroscopy.
  • 2 December: Today, Dr Mario González Jiménez officially started as a Research Assistant in the group. He'll be working on femtosecond spectroscopy of biomolecules.
  • 1 October 2013: Today, Judith Reichenbach officially started her PhD studies in the group. She'll be working on nucleation using femtosecond spectroscopy.
  • 18-20 September 2013: Faraday Discussion 167 on Mesostructure and Dynamics in Liquids and Solutions was a sucess with a lot of (heated) discussion. The published volume should come out later in the year.
  • April 2013: Another EPSRC grant funded on "Solvation dynamics and structure around proteins and peptides: collective network motions or weak interactions"
  • October 2012: Dr Christopher Syme has started as a research associate in the group. He will be using confocal fluorescence microscopy and fluorescence lifetime imaging to study phase transitions in liquids.
  • May 2012: Fully funded PhD studentships in the Wynne group. Applications are invited for a number of PhD studentships in the Wynne group. Some of these studentships are part of the Doctoral Training Centre (DTC) in Continuous Manufacturing and Crystallisation (CMAC).
  • 9 May 2012: Our paper "The dynamic crossover in water does not require bulk water" just came out in PCCP, see doi:10.1039/c2cp40703e. In a nutshell, it shows that you only need one water molecule to have bulk water properties (as long as that water molecule can form a water pentamer).
  • 18/4/12: The latest issue of PCCP (Physical Chemistry and Chemical Physics), the top physical chemistry journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry, is dedicated to such ultrafast chemical dynamics. The special issue was guest edited by Prof Klaas Wynne in the School of Chemistry at Glasgow University and his colleague Dr Neil Hunt at the University of Strathclyde. Special issue PCCP on Ultrafast Chemical Dynamics.
  • 12/4/12: Glasgow University press release Funding boost for Ultrafast Chemical Physics.
  • March 2012: Postdoc position in the group.See Apply online at Reference Number 001765). Closing date:  29 April 2012
  • February 2012: The 2011 UCP meeting in Glasgow was discussed in the March 2012 issue of Nature Chemistry: Ultrafast chemical physics: In search of molecular movies. The future is ultrafast!
  • December 2011: The International Workshop on Ultrafast Chemical Physics & Physical Chemistry (UCP 2011) was held in Glasgow. Photos from the UCP2011 event here.
  • October 2011: The Ultrafast Chemical Physics group has won a £0.7M EPSRC grant to study liquid-liquid phase transitions using microscopy in collaboration with Chemical Engineering at Strathclyde. EPSRC grant for UCP group.
  • July 2011: We would like to cordially invite you to submit a paper to a special issue of PCCP on femtosecond spectroscopy entitled "Ultrafast Chemical Dynamics". Topics that will be covered include: * ultrafast dynamics of reactions in proteins * ultrafast structure and dynamics of liquids and solutions * ultrafast chemical processes at interfaces * ultrafast dynamics of electronically excited states * ultrafast atomic structure and dynamics in the solid state. The special issue will feature a number of invited overviews followed by contributed papers. The deadline for submissions is 14 November 2011. For more information, see
  • July 2011: the European Conference of Crystal Growth ECCG4 will be held 17 to 20 June 2012 in Glasgow.
  • 7 July 2011: the EPSRC-funded Coherent regenerative amplifier (producing 23-fs 2.7-mJ 800-nm pulses at a repetition rate of 1 kHz) has been reinstalled in our lab again. This is in addition to a new Coherent Micra-10 (producing 15-fs 800-nm pulses at 80 MHz).
  • May 2011: A Faraday Discussion on 'Mesostructure and dynamics in liquids and solution' will be held in September 2013 most likely in Bristol.The organising committee consists at the moment of Alan Soper (Rutherford Appleton Laboratory), Austen Angell (Arizona State University), Ken Seddon (Queen's Belfast), Stephen Meech (UEA), an Klaas Wynne (Glasgow University).
  • May 2011: The new ultrafast chemical physics laser lab is pretty much ready. Now all we need is some (working) femtosecond lasers...
  • 16 November 2010: New website for the International Workshop on Ultrafast Chemical Physics & Physical Chemistry UCP 201.
  • October 2010: Next Ultrafast Chemical Physics meeting (UCP 2011) set for 14-16 December 2011 at the University of Strathclyde. Confirmed speakers include Prof David Klug (Imperial College, multidimensional spectroscopy), Prof Andrea Cavalleri (University of Oxford, femtosecond X-ray science) and Prof Klaas Wynne (University of Glasgow, terahertz spectroscopy). In addition we have confirmed attendance of Prof Dwayne Miller (University of Toronto) as plenary speaker for the conference.
  • 2 October 2010: Positions. A lectureship (assistant professorship) in ultrafast physical chemistry is available. The ideal candidate would be interested in ultrafast femtosecond spectroscopy of the condensed phase or an allied area. Brand new lab space will be available. Ref: 00057-10, Closing Date: 29th October 2010.
  • 1 November 2010: KW's official start as chair in physical chemistry in the School of Chemistry at the University of Glasgow.
  • August 2010: Our paper in JACS (described in Serving nanoparticle “soup”) has been cited 19 times on Web of Science exactly one year after its publication. It describes how using multiple spectroscopies, we discovered mesoscopic structure in room-temperature ionic liquids.
  • 24 March 2010: Our paper The effects of anion and cation substitution on the ultrafast solvent dynamics of ionic liquids: A time-resolved optical Kerr-effect spectroscopic study, JCP 119, 464 (2003) was selected as highlighted reference in the JCP Spotlight Collection on ionic liquids, March 2010.
  • 12 March 2010: Our paper Universal nonexponential relaxation: Complex dynamics in simple liquids was selected JChemPhys editors’ choice as one of the most innovative and influential articles in the field of Chemical Physics in 2009. See
  • 5 January 2010: Our paper Universal nonexponential relaxation: Complex dynamics in simple liquids was the 3rd most downloaded paper of J. Chem. Phys. in December 2009.
  • 5 August 2009: Read more about our latest paper in JACS in Serving nanoparticle "soup".
  • 4 August 2009: We were joined by new postdoc Marco Candelaresi.
  • May 2009: New ultrafast physical-chemistry lab is ready!
  • 30/31 October 2008: The 2008 ultrafast physical-chemistry (UCP) meeting was held at Strathclyde.
  • 10 July 2008: We were joined by new postdoc Kitsakorn Locharoenrat.
  • 23 May 2008: Our paper "Glasslike Behavior in Aqueous Electrolyte Solutions" was selected "Editors' Choice" in the 23 May issue of the journal Science (PDF, 800kB).
  • 12 May 2008: Groups wins £0.6M EPSRC grant "Two-dimensional terahertz–IR spectroscopy: a unique probe of ultrafast hydrogen-bond dynamics of liquid water and model systems" by KW, JOK, and DJSB.
  • 2 May 2008: Strathclyde will host the "International Workshop on ultrafast physical-chemistry 2008 (UCP ‘08)" on 30/31 October 2008 to be held in the Senate/Court suite. Plenary speaker is Prof Robin Hochstrasser FRSE (University of Pennsylvania). Confirmed invited speakers are Prof Casey Hynes (CNRS, Paris and University of Colorado, Boulder), Prof Charles Schmuttenmaer (Yale), Prof Majed Chergui (Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne), Prof Mischa Bonn (AMOLF, Amsterdam), Prof Peter Hamm (University of Zurich), and Prof Thomas Elsaesser (Max Born Institute, Berlin). The workshop is organised by Angus J. Bain (UCL), David Klug (Imperial), Steve Meech (UEA), Neil Hunt (Strathclyde), and Klaas Wynne (Strathclyde).
  • 24 April 2008: Our paper "Glasslike Behavior in Aqueous Electrolyte Solutions" came out in J. Chem. Phys. A summary of the paper in simple terms (best attempt anyway) is on the page The science of syrup and traffic jams.
  • 4 March 2008: Visiting professor Robin Hochstrasser of the University of Pennsylvania has been elected Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. This is a prestigious fellowship for scientists of great international renown and we are delighted that Robin has been honoured in this way.
  • 18 March 2007: New paper in JACS on terahertz spectra associated with a helix to coil transition in a peptide. Read more about it in the research highlight Observing ‘The Lubricant of Life’
  • 10 January 2007: New paper on terahertz emission from nanostructured surfaces has come out in PRL. Read more about it in the research page on terahertz technology.

Also visit the web sites of the Dynamics & Structure grouping in the School of Chemistry at the University of Glasgow



  Creative Commons License

Open PhD and postdoctoral positions in the BCP group

Dynamics of Imidazolium Ionic Liquids from a Combined Dielectric Relaxation and Optical Kerr Effect Study: Evidence for Mesoscopic Aggregation

Find a PhD project in Wynne group

“Terahertz underdamped vibrational motion governs protein-ligand binding in solution”, Nature Comm. 5, 3999 (2014)