Nanobolometer Set to Uncover Deep Space

Theresa Oei | March 16, 2012

Concept art of a space observatory utilizing the nanobolometer. Courtesy of Dr. Prober.

Dr. Boris Karasik of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Yale Professor of Applied Physics and Physics Daniel Prober have developed a device that would allow astronomers to measure the spectra of the molecules of distant galaxies. The device is a nanobolometer that accomplishes this unprecedented feat by detecting individual photons of the far infrared spectrum. These photons travel relatively unhindered by interstellar dust, in contrast to most other molecular emissions. The researchers collaborated with colleagues at Rutgers University, State University of New York at Buffalo, and Star Cryoelectronics.

“Far infrared spectroscopy of this area would give us an understanding of the dynamics of star formation and more sensitive detectors can look further and see the universe from a larger scale,” said Dr. Karasik. Photons of the far infrared spectrum have less energy than those of the visible light spectrum and consequently are difficult to detect. The device is extremely sensitive because it operates near absolute zero temperature. It is made up of a metal antenna surrounding a superconductor that measures small changes in energy and resulting changes in temperature, which corresponds to the absorbance of individual photons from deep space.

At this point, field application for this technology is tenuous; as Dr. Prober stated, the nanobolometer would require a space-based observatory the size of the Hubble telescope. Dr. Karasik believes that the next innovation would be to create a sensitive camera consisting of thousands of nanobolometers to collect images of distant galaxies. As this technology develops, the nanobolometer may have significant scientific payoff for astrophysics knowledge in the future.

This Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) image of a titanium (Ti) microbolometer shows the design of a nanobolometer. Photo courtesy of Dr. Karasik.