Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Tiniest Bolometer Ever

If you've never seen a bolometer before, its unlikely you will get a glimpse of the new nano-sized electronic detector created by a team of physicists at Rutgers University, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, and the State University of New York at Buffalo.

That's because the minuscule device is about 500 nanometers long and 100 nanometers wide; an astonishing 100 times smaller than the thickness of a strand of your hair.

Bolometers act as detectors of infrared waves by absorbing photons or packets of light, and measuring the heat generated. But the newly developed "hot-electron nanobolometer" is no mere imitator.

According to a lead scientist of the project, it is potentially 100 times more sensitive than current bolometers, and absorbs far-infrared light much faster. While it works by measuring heat, the circuit itself operates at extremely cold temperatures, around 459 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Brrr!

Astronomers are no doubt grateful for the new technology, as it helps them inch closer towards the ability to see invisible light created during the inchoate days of the early universe. Both abundant and significant, invisible light comprises about 98% of the light emitted since the big bang 14 billion years ago.

Many believe that exploring invisible light may provide clues into star and galaxy formation. The scientists working on the nanobolometer predict that it be widely applied to future satellite-based far infrared telescopes in space.

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