Parametric oscillator

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One of the first varactor parametric amplifiers, invented at Bell Labs around 1958. This 4 stage amplifier achieved 10 dB gain at 400 MHz. Parametric amplifiers are used in applications requiring extremely low noise.

A parametric oscillator is a driven harmonic oscillator in which the oscillations are driven by varying some parameter of the system at some frequency, typically different from the natural frequency of the oscillator. A simple example of a parametric oscillator is a child pumping a swing by periodically standing and squatting to increase the size of the swing's oscillations.[1][2][3] The child's motions vary the moment of inertia of the swing as a pendulum. The "pump" motions of the child must be at twice the frequency of the swing's oscillations. Examples of parameters that may be varied are the oscillator's resonance frequency and damping .

Parametric oscillators are used in several areas of physics. The classical varactor parametric oscillator consists of a semiconductor varactor diode connected to a resonant circuit or cavity resonator. It is driven by varying the diode's capacitance by applying a varying bias voltage. The circuit that varies the diode's capacitance is called the "pump" or "driver". In microwave electronics, waveguide/YAG based parametric oscillators operate in the same fashion. Another important example is the optical parametric oscillator, which converts an input laser light wave into two output waves of lower frequency ()

When operated at pump levels below oscillation, the parametric oscillator can amplify a signal, becoming a parametric amplifier (paramp). Varactor parametric amplifiers have been developed as low-noise amplifiers in the radio and microwave frequency range. The advantage of a parametric amplifier is that it has much lower noise than an ordinary amplifier based on a gain device like a transistor or vacuum tube. This is because in the parametric amplifier a reactance is varied instead of a (noise-producing) resistance. They have been used in very low noise radio receivers in radio telescopes and spacecraft communication antennas.

Parametric resonance occurs in a mechanical system when a system is parametrically excited and oscillates at one of its resonant frequencies. Parametric excitation differs from forcing since the action appears as a time varying modification on a system parameter.


Michael Faraday (1831) was the first to notice oscillations of one frequency being excited by forces of double the frequency, in the crispations (ruffled surface waves) observed in a wine glass excited to "sing".[4] Franz Melde (1860) generated parametric oscillations in a string by employing a tuning fork to periodically vary the tension at twice the resonance frequency of the string.[5] Parametric oscillation was first treated as a general phenomenon by Rayleigh (1883,1887).[6][7][8]

One of the first to apply the concept to electric circuits was George Francis FitzGerald, who in 1892 tried to excite oscillations in an LC circuit by pumping it with a varying inductance provided by a dynamo.[9] [10] Parametric amplifiers (paramps) were first used in 1913-1915 for radio telephony from Berlin to Vienna and Moscow, and were predicted to have a useful future (Ernst Alexanderson, 1916).[11] The early paramps varied inductances, but other methods have been developed since, e.g., the varactor diodes, klystron tubes, Josephson junctions and optical methods.

The mathematics[edit]

This equation is linear in . By assumption, the parameters and depend only on time and do not depend on the state of the oscillator. In general, and/or are assumed to vary periodically, with the same period .

If the parameters vary at roughly twice the natural frequency of the oscillator (defined below), the oscillator phase-locks to the parametric variation and absorbs energy at a rate proportional to the energy it already has. Without a compensating energy-loss mechanism provided by , the oscillation amplitude grows exponentially. (This phenomenon is called parametric excitation, parametric resonance or parametric pumping.) However, if the initial amplitude is zero, it will remain so; this distinguishes it from the non-parametric resonance of driven simple harmonic oscillators, in which the amplitude grows linearly in time regardless of the initial state.

A familiar experience of both parametric and driven oscillation is playing on a swing.[1][2][3] Rocking back and forth pumps the swing as a driven harmonic oscillator, but once moving, the swing can also be parametrically driven by alternately standing and squatting at key points in the swing arc. This changes moment of inertia of the swing and hence the resonance frequency, and children can quickly reach large amplitudes provided that they have some amplitude to start with (e.g., get a push). Standing and squatting at rest, however, leads nowhere.

Transformation of the equation[edit]

We begin by making a change of variables

where is a time integral of the damping

This change of variables eliminates the damping term

where the transformed frequency is defined

In general, the variations in damping and frequency are relatively small perturbations

where and are constants, namely, the time-averaged oscillator frequency and damping, respectively. The transformed frequency can be written in a similar way:

where is the natural frequency of the damped harmonic oscillator


Thus, our transformed equation can be written

The independent variations and in the oscillator damping and resonance frequency, respectively, can be combined into a single pumping function . The converse conclusion is that any form of parametric excitation can be accomplished by varying either the resonance frequency or the damping, or both.

Solution of the transformed equation[edit]

Let us assume that is sinusoidal, specifically

where the pumping frequency but need not equal exactly. The solution of our transformed equation may be written

where we have factored out the rapidly varying components ( and ) to isolate the slowly varying amplitudes and . This corresponds to Laplace's variation of parameters method.

Substituting this solution into the transformed equation and retaining only the terms first-order in yields two coupled equations

We may decouple and solve these equations by making another change of variables

which yields the equations

where we have defined for brevity

and the detuning

The equation does not depend on , and linearization near its equilibrium position shows that decays exponentially to its equilibrium

where the decay constant


In other words, the parametric oscillator phase-locks to the pumping signal .

Taking (i.e., assuming that the phase has locked), the equation becomes

whose solution is ; the amplitude of the oscillation diverges exponentially. However, the corresponding amplitude of the untransformed variable need not diverge

The amplitude diverges, decays or stays constant, depending on whether is greater than, less than, or equal to , respectively.

The maximum growth rate of the amplitude occurs when . At that frequency, the equilibrium phase is zero, implying that and . As is varied from , moves away from zero and , i.e., the amplitude grows more slowly. For sufficiently large deviations of , the decay constant can become purely imaginary since

If the detuning exceeds , becomes purely imaginary and varies sinusoidally. Using the definition of the detuning , the pumping frequency must lie between and in order to achieve exponential growth in . Expanding the square roots in a binomial series shows that the spread in pumping frequencies that result in exponentially growing is approximately .

Intuitive derivation of parametric excitation[edit]

The above derivation may seem like a mathematical sleight-of-hand, so it may be helpful to give an intuitive derivation. The equation may be written in the form

which represents a simple harmonic oscillator (or, alternatively, a bandpass filter) being driven by a signal that is proportional to its response .

Assume that already has an oscillation at frequency and that the pumping has double the frequency and a small amplitude . Applying a trigonometric identity for products of sinusoids, their product produces two driving signals, one at frequency and the other at frequency

Being off-resonance, the signal is attentuated and can be neglected initially. By contrast, the signal is on resonance, serves to amplify and is proportional to the amplitude . Hence, the amplitude of grows exponentially unless it is initially zero.

Expressed in Fourier space, the multiplication is a convolution of their Fourier transforms and . The positive feedback arises because the component of converts the component of into a driving signal at , and vice versa (reverse the signs). This explains why the pumping frequency must be near , twice the natural frequency of the oscillator. Pumping at a grossly different frequency would not couple (i.e., provide mutual positive feedback) between the and components of .

Parametric resonance[edit]

Parametric resonance is the parametrical resonance phenomenon of mechanical perturbation and oscillation at certain frequencies (and the associated harmonics). This effect is different from regular resonance because it exhibits the instability phenomenon.

Parametric resonance occurs in a mechanical system when a system is parametrically excited and oscillates at one of its resonant frequencies. Parametric resonance takes place when the external excitation frequency equals twice the natural frequency of the system. Parametric excitation differs from forcing since the action appears as a time varying modification on a system parameter. The classical example of parametric resonance is that of the vertically forced pendulum.

For small amplitudes and by linearising, the stability of the periodic solution is given by :

where is some perturbation from the periodic solution. Here the term acts as an ‘energy’ source and is said to parametrically excite the system. The Mathieu equation describes many other physical systems to a sinusoidal parametric excitation such as an LC Circuit where the capacitor plates move sinusoidally.

Parametric amplifiers[edit]


A parametric amplifier is implemented as a mixer. The mixer's gain shows up in the output as amplifier gain. The input weak signal is mixed with a strong local oscillator signal, and the resultant strong output is used in the ensuing receiver stages.

Parametric amplifiers also operate by changing a parameter of the amplifier. Intuitively, this can be understood as follows, for a variable capacitor based amplifier.

Q [charge in a capacitor] = C x V
V [voltage across a capacitor] = Q/C

Knowing the above, if a capacitor is charged until its voltage equals the sampled voltage of an incoming weak signal, and if the capacitor's capacitance is then reduced (say, by manually moving the plates further apart), then the voltage across the capacitor will increase. In this way, the voltage of the weak signal is amplified.

If the capacitor is a varicap diode, then the 'moving the plates' can be done simply by applying time-varying DC voltage to the varicap diode. This driving voltage usually comes from another oscillator — sometimes called a "pump".

The resulting output signal contains frequencies that are the sum and difference of the input signal (f1) and the pump signal (f2): (f1 + f2) and (f1 - f2).

A practical parametric oscillator needs the following connections: one for the "common" or "ground", one to feed the pump, one to retrieve the output, and maybe a fourth one for biasing. A parametric amplifier needs a fifth port to input the signal being amplified. Since a varactor diode has only two connections, it can only be a part of an LC network with four eigenvectors with nodes at the connections. This can be implemented as a transimpedance amplifier, a traveling wave amplifier or by means of a circulator.

Mathematical equation[edit]

The parametric oscillator equation can be extended by adding an external driving force :

We assume that the damping is sufficiently strong that, in the absence of the driving force , the amplitude of the parametric oscillations does not diverge, i.e., that . In this situation, the parametric pumping acts to lower the effective damping in the system. For illustration, let the damping be constant and assume that the external driving force is at the mean resonance frequency , i.e., . The equation becomes

whose solution is roughly

As approaches the threshold , the amplitude diverges. When , the system enters parametric resonance and the amplitude begins to grow exponentially, even in the absence of a driving force .


1:It is highly sensitive

2:low noise level amplifier for ultra high frequency and microwave radio signal

3:The unique capability to operate as a wireless powered amplifier that doesn't require internal power source[12]

Other relevant mathematical results[edit]

If the parameters of any second-order linear differential equation are varied periodically, Floquet analysis shows that the solutions must vary either sinusoidally or exponentially.

The equation above with periodically varying is an example of a Hill equation. If is a simple sinusoid, the equation is called a Mathieu equation.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Case, William. "Two ways of driving a child's swing". Retrieved 27 November 2011.  Note: In real-life playgrounds, swings are predominantly driven, not parametric, oscillators.
  2. ^ a b Case, W. B. (1996). "The pumping of a swing from the standing position". American Journal of Physics. 64: 215–220. Bibcode:1996AmJPh..64..215C. doi:10.1119/1.18209. 
  3. ^ a b Roura, P.; Gonzalez, J.A. (2010). "Towards a more realistic description of swing pumping due to the exchange of angular momentum". European Journal of Physics. 31: 1195–1207. Bibcode:2010EJPh...31.1195R. doi:10.1088/0143-0807/31/5/020. 
  4. ^ Faraday, M. (1831) "On a peculiar class of acoustical figures; and on certain forms assumed by a group of particles upon vibrating elastic surfaces",[permanent dead link] Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (London), 121 : 299-318.
  5. ^ Melde, F. (1860) "Über Erregung stehender Wellen eines fadenförmigen Körpers"[permanent dead link] [On the excitation of standing waves on a string], Annalen der Physik und Chemie (2nd series), 109 : 193-215.
  6. ^ Strutt, J.W. (Lord Rayleigh) (1883) "On maintained vibrations", Archived August 13, 2016, at the Wayback Machine. Philosophical Magazine, 5th series, 15 : 229-235.
  7. ^ Strutt, J.W. (Lord Rayleigh) (1887) "On the maintenance of vibrations by forces of double frequency, and on the propagation of waves through a medium endowed with periodic structure",[permanent dead link] Philosophical Magazine, 5th series, 24 : 145-159.
  8. ^ Strutt, J.W. (Lord Rayleigh) The Theory of Sound, 2nd. ed. (N.Y., N.Y.: Dover, 1945), vol. 1, pages 81-85.
  9. ^ See:
  10. ^ Hong, Sungook Hong (201). Wireless: From Marconi's Black-Box to the Audion. MIT Press. pp. 158–161. ISBN 0262082985. 
  11. ^ Alexanderson, Ernst F.W. (April 1916) "A magnetic amplifier for audio telephony"[permanent dead link] Proceedings of the Institute of Radio Engineers, 4 : 101-149.
  12. ^ Sensitivity Enhancement of Remotely Coupled NMR Detectors Using Wirelessly Powered Parametric Amplification Archived March 4, 2016, at the Wayback Machine.

Further reading[edit]

  • Kühn L. (1914) Elektrotech. Z., 35, 816-819.
  • Mumford WW. (1960) "Some Notes on the History of Parametric Transducers", Proceedings of the Institute of Radio Engineers, 48, 848-853.
  • Pungs L. DRGM Nr. 588 822 (24 October 1913); DRP Nr. 281440 (1913); Elektrotech. Z., 44, 78-81 (1923?); Proc. IRE, 49, 378 (1961).

External articles[edit]