Nanotechnology makes supertelescopes much more sensitive

Feb 02, 2009

Nanotechnologist Chris Lodewijk has succeeded in significantly increasing the sensitivity of the new supertelescopes in Chile. He will receive his PhD on this topic at Delft University of Technology on Monday 2 February.

In Chile's Atacama desert, technicians and astronomers from around the world are currently working on the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA). This consists of 66 advanced telescopes which will be placed at an altitude of 5,000 metres and together will provide a more precise image of the universe. They are chiefly aimed at shedding light on the question of how stars and planets are formed. ALMA is expected to be taken into service in 2012 and is viewed by astronomers as a major step forward for their field.

Dutch astronomers have been closely involved in developing ALMA in a fruitful collaboration with nanotechnologists. The latest contribution from the nano-world comes from PhD candidate Chris Lodewijk and technician Tony Zijlstra at Delft University of Technology's Kavli Institute of Nanoscience. They have succeeded in drastically increasing the sensitivity of ALMA in a crucial frequency range by improving the functioning of the major component, the radiation-sensor.

This involves what are known as super-conducting tunnel junctions. These miniscule sensors comprise two superconductors which are separated by an insulating layer measuring 1 to 2 nanometres, usually of aluminium oxide, with an area of 500 by 500 nanometres.

However, it is impossible to avoid a very thin layer of 1 nanometre of aluminium oxide 'leaking' in certain spots. Lodewijk and Zijlstra therefore conducted research into replacing aluminium oxide with aluminium nitride (AlN), with spectacular results. An aluminium nitride layer proves to be much more homogeneous and its sensitivity, in the 602 to 720 GHz range, is also much improved.

Incidentally, Lodewijk's research topic of super-conducting tunnel junctions is also essential to the functioning of the Herschel Space Telescope, which is to be launched in April. The Herschel Space Telescope is the successor to the Hubble telescope. Delft University of Technology's Kavli Institute of Nanoscience has developed many of the crucial tunnel junctions for the Herschel Telescope's measuring equipment.

Source: Delft University of Technology

Explore further: The latest fashion: Graphene edges can be tailor-made

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Gullies on Vesta suggest past water-mobilized flows

19 minutes ago

(Phys.org)—Protoplanet Vesta, visited by NASA's Dawn spacecraft from 2011 to 2013, was once thought to be completely dry, incapable of retaining water because of the low temperatures and pressures at its ...

Invention slows water evaporation, generates energy

28 minutes ago

A new technology invented at the University of Arizona offers a positive environmental impact by slowing the evaporation of water from bodies of water such as mining tailings ponds and reservoirs, while simultaneously ...

Geologists solve mystery of Tibetan mountains

30 minutes ago

In the most comprehensive study of its kind, University of Kansas geologists have unraveled one of the geologic mysteries of Tibet. The research, recently published online in Nature Geoscience, shows that i ...

'Predicted' zeolites may fuel efficient processes

9 minutes ago

(Phys.org)—Scientists at Rice University and the University of Minnesota have identified synthetic materials that may purify ethanol more efficiently and greatly improve the separation of long-chain hydrocarbons ...

SOHO and Hinode offer new insight into solar eruptions

38 minutes ago

The sun is home to the largest explosions in the solar system. For example, it regularly produces huge eruptions known as coronal mass ejections – when billions of tons of solar material erupt off the sun, ...

Recommended for you

The latest fashion: Graphene edges can be tailor-made

Jan 23, 2015

Theoretical physicists at Rice University are living on the edge as they study the astounding properties of graphene. In a new study, they figure out how researchers can fracture graphene nanoribbons to get ...

Nanotechnology changes behavior of materials

Jan 23, 2015

One of the reasons solar cells are not used more widely is cost—the materials used to make them most efficient are expensive. Engineers are exploring ways to print solar cells from inks, but the devices ...

Gold 'nano-drills'

Jan 22, 2015

Spherical gold particles are able to 'drill' a nano-diameter tunnel in ceramic material when heated. This is an easy and attractive way to equip chips with nanopores for DNA analysis, for example. Nanotechnologists ...

The importance of building small things

Jan 22, 2015

Strong materials, such as concrete, are usually heavy, and lightweight materials, such as rubber (for latex gloves) and paper, are usually weak and susceptible to tearing and damage. Julia R. Greer, professor ...

Graphene brings quantum effects to electronic circuits

Jan 22, 2015

Research by scientists attached to the EC's Graphene Flagship has revealed a superfluid phase in ultra-low temperature 2D materials, creating the potential for electronic devices which dissipate very little ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.