NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. A newly developed nano-sized electronic device is an important step toward helping astronomers see invisible light dating from the creation of the universe. This invisible light makes up 98% of the light emitted since the "big bang," and may provide insights into the earliest stages of star and galaxy formation almost 14 billion years ago.
The tiny, new circuit, developed by physicsts at Rutgers University, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and the State University of New York at Buffalo, is 100 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair. It is sensitive to faint traces of light in the far-infrared spectrum (longest of the infrared wavelengths), well beyond the colors humans see.
"In the expanding universe, the earliest stars move away from us at a speed approaching the speed of light," said Michael Gershenson, professor of physics at Rutgers and one of the lead investigators. "As a result, their light is strongly red-shifted when it reaches us, appearing infrared."
Because the Earth's atmosphere strongly absorbs far-infrared light, Earth-based radiotelescopes cannot detect the very faint light emitted by these stars. So scientists are proposing a new generation of space telescopes to gather this light. Yet to take full advantage of space-borne telescopes, detectors that capture the light will have to be far more sensitive than any that exist today.
Detectors of infrared and submillimeter waves, known as bolometers, measure the heat generated when they absorb photons, or units of light. Today's infrared bolometer technology is mature and has reached the limit of its performance.
"The device we built, which we call a hot-electron nanobolometer, is potentially 100 times more sensitive than existing bolometers," Gershenson said. "It is also faster to react to the light that hits it."
The research team is publishing a description of the experimental device i
|Contact: Carl Blesch|