History of Microwave Diodes

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New for April 2021: Marion Hines, a Microwave Associates' employee and diode inventor, has been added to the Microwave Hall of Fame!

New for April 2020. Before there were active solid-state devices, diodes were the first solid-state sources (oscillators, multipliers) of microwaves. And diodes have been used in control products (switches, phase shifters, attenuators) since the 1950s.

The history of microwave diodes starts at Bell Labs, then became synonymous with M/A-COM. Art Uhlir worked at Bell Labs in the 1950s and published an excellent article on capabilities:

A. Uhlir, "The Potential of Semiconductor Diodes in High-Frequency Communications," in Proceedings of the IRE, vol. 46, no. 6, pp. 1099-1115, June 1958.

Note that IRE became IEEE in 1963.

M/A-COM was founded in 1950, as "Microwave Associates". The original roster was Vessarios Chigas, Louis Roberts, Hugh Wainwright and Richard M. Walker.  Art Uhlir at some point jumped ship and contined his diode work there.


By the 1960s, Varactors were being used in signal generators:

M. E. Hines, A. Blaisdell, F. Collins, W. Priest, L. Baldwin and S. Johnson, "Multiple-Stage Varactor Harmonic Generators," 16th Annual Symposium on Frequency Control, Atlantic City, NJ, USA, 1962, pp. 328-346

Marion E. Hines died on August 25, 2000 at the age of 82 and is considered a pioneer of microwave semiconductors.

PIN diodes

Tunnel diodes

In 1958 Leo Esaki, a Japanese scientist and Nobel Prize winner, discovered the tunnel diode phenomenon. If a semiconductor junction diode is heavily doped with impurities, its I-V curve will have a region of negative resistance (the slope is negative, or downward). Such diodes are called "tunnel diodes", and have broad applications in microwaves. This region has been exploited to create oscillators, but it also makes a very efficient detector.

Gunn Diodes

Gunn diodes are named after John Gunn, who discovered the what is known as the Gunn Effect in 1962. We don't know of any papers he published on the topic.

IMPATT diodes

Impact avalanche transit time diodes (IMPATTs) were developed in the 1960s.

T. Misawa, "Dependence of small-signal characteristics of IMPATT diodes on device parameters," in IEEE Transactions on Electron Devices, vol. ED-13, no. 8/9, pp. 675-675, August-September 1966.

By 1990, Cushman (M/A-COM) et al reported 10 watts of W-band power. Note that Marion Hines is listed as a co-author, so is Peter Staecker, an ex-president of IEEE MTT-S.

J. F. Cushman, F. Occhiuti, E. M. McDonagh, M. E. Hines and P. W. Staecker, "High power epitaxially-stacked varactor diode multipliers: performance and applications at W-band," IEEE International Digest on Microwave Symposium, Dallas, TX, 1990, pp. 923-926 vol.2.

Work on solid-state transmitters came to the competition of a lifetime, when Raytheon and Hughes Aircraft competed for the AMRAAM missile contract around 1980. Both teams developed IMPATT transmitters, but Hughes abandoned the effort in favor of a cheaper TWT.  Hughes won that competition in 1981, and IMPATT solid-state transmitters took a black eye.

You can dig up some papers IMPATT transmitters written during or just after the AMRAAM competition era (what a coincidence). Here's a Hughes paper:

S. E. Hamilton, R. S. Robertson, F. A. Wilhelmi and M. E. Dick, "X-Band Pulsed Solid State Transmitters," 1980 IEEE MTT-S International Microwave symposium Digest, Washington, DC, USA, 1980, pp. 162-164.

And here is a Raytheon paper:

C. A. Drubin, A. L. Hieber, G. Jerinic and A. S. Marinilli, "A 1kw /sub peak/, 300 W /sub avg/ IMPATT Diode Injection Locked Oscillator," 1982 IEEE MTT-S International Microwave Symposium Digest, Dallas, TX, USA, 1982, pp. 126-128.

Raytheon got the last laugh when they bought Hughes from General Motors in 1997. By then, anyone that knew anything about IMPATT transmitters had fled into management.

ISIS diodes

ISIS diodes were developed in the 1980s, at M/A-COM. Past president of IEEE MTT-S, Peter Staecker, was in the thick of it; he is listed as second author on the first ISIS paper, after the more senior M.E. Hines at M/A-COM.

M. E. Hines, P. W. Staecker, F. Occhiuti and J. F. Cushman, "The ISIS Multi-Junction Varactor as a Pulsed Millimeter Wave Harmonic Generator," 1987 17th European Microwave Conference, Rome, Italy, 1987, pp. 693-697.

On our page on ISIS diodes, we suggest a possibility as to how the ISIS diode was named....

The University of Kansas has a treasure box of Microwave Associates history, donated by co-founder Richard M. Walker.


Author : Unknown Editor