Off-the-shelf electronics turn up gain on spectroscopy

Jan 11, 2011

Whether the object of attention is a novel aspect of the universe or an enigmatic and distant colleague, listening is key to nearly any effort to seek understanding. And not just with your ears. Spectroscopy, the study of how atoms absorb and emit electromagnetic radiation, is like listening, too. The technique is central to a range of physics experiments and can be thought of as an attempt to filter out useful information from what various sensors and detectors often first "hear" as undifferentiated electromagnetic noise.

Now, a new twist on spectroscopy, described in the American Institute of Physics' in journal , allows for an unprecedented level of such filtering -- one that could transform everything from the search for extraterrestrial intelligence to super-sensitive spy gear to scan hotel rooms for hidden microphones or cameras.

The technique was demonstrated on the slice of the containing frequencies on which terrestrial radio stations broadcast music. Current techniques can take such and tell you, in effect, the average volume and pitch of each moment of the music. However, if a given moment is made up of several notes played simultaneously -- a chord, say -- that fact is more or less invisible.

Or rather, it was invisible before the recent work of doctoral student Sebastian Starosielec and professor Daniel Hagele, both at Germany's Ruhr University Bochum. By stitching together a MHz-sampling card –- a radio-frequency version of a sound card -- and a multi-core graphics CPU, the two combed through a broad band of the radio spectrum in extra-fine detail. Their technical achievement, which determined in real time correlations among many thousands of pairs of frequencies, for the first time makes it easy to distinguish between a soloist and an ensemble based only on analysis of spectra.

Beyond the search for E.T. and illicit bugs, the technique could prove useful "for detecting anything that is not pure noise," says Hägele. Other applications could include better measurements of various physical systems, particularly in atomic and solid state physics, and the possibility of better communication signal recovery to be used on and off the planet's surface.

Hägele gives the following example to illustrate the power of the the technology: Imagine a TV show was broadcast daily from Mars, and the signal was received, along with a vast amount of background noise, here on Earth. After a few days "we would be able to reconstruct the show's introduction, including the theme song and images, just from spectroscopic data," he says.

Explore further: Using antineutrinos to monitor nuclear reactors

More information: The article, "Two-dimensional higher order noise spectroscopy up to radio frequencies" by Sebastian Starosielec, Rachel Fainblat, Jörg Rudolph, and Daniel Hägele appears in the journal Review of Scientific Instruments. See: link.aip.org/link/rsinak/v81/i12/p125101/s1

Provided by American Institute of Physics

3.7 /5 (3 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Noisy nature of atoms

Sep 09, 2004

University of California scientists working at Los Alamos National Laboratory have demonstrated a way to use the random fluctuations that exist naturally in all magnetic systems to perform magnetic resonance studies without ...

Hello, Hello, Earth?

Dec 05, 2004

If ET ever phones home, chances are Earthlings wouldn't recognize the call as anything other than random noise or a star. New research shows that highly efficient electromagnetic transmissions from our neighbors in space wou ...

SETI@home completes a decade of ET search

May 01, 2009

The SETI@home project, which has involved the worldwide public in a search for radio-wave evidence of life outside Earth, marks its 10th anniversary on May 17, 2009.

0.2 second test for explosive liquids

Oct 20, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Since a failed terrorist attack in 2006, plane passengers have not been able to carry bottles of liquid through security at airports, leaving some parched at the airport and others having ...

Recommended for you

Using antineutrinos to monitor nuclear reactors

5 hours ago

When monitoring nuclear reactors, the International Atomic Energy Agency has to rely on input given by the operators. In the future, antineutrino detectors may provide an additional option for monitoring. ...

Imaging turns a corner

9 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Scientists have developed a new microscope which enables a dramatically improved view of biological cells.

Mapping the road to quantum gravity

23 hours ago

The road uniting quantum field theory and general relativity – the two great theories of modern physics – has been impassable for 80 years. Could a tool from condensed matter physics finally help map ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Phase transiting to a new quantum universe

(Phys.org) —Recent insight and discovery of a new class of quantum transition opens the way for a whole new subfield of materials physics and quantum technologies.

A 'quantum leap' in encryption technology

Toshiba Research Europe, BT, ADVA Optical Networking and the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), the UK's National Measurement Institute, today announced the first successful trial of Quantum Key Distribution ...

When things get glassy, molecules go fractal

Colorful church windows, beads on a necklace and many of our favorite plastics share something in common—they all belong to a state of matter known as glasses. School children learn the difference between ...

Autism Genome Project delivers genetic discovery

A new study from investigators with the Autism Genome Project, the world's largest research project on identifying genes associated with risk for autism, has found that the comprehensive use of copy number variant (CNV) genetic ...

Study links California drought to global warming

While researchers have sometimes connected weather extremes to man-made global warming, usually it is not done in real time. Now a study is asserting a link between climate change and both the intensifying California drought ...