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Microwave radiation sensor boasts 100000x higher sensitivity

Microwave radiation sensor boasts 100000x higher sensitivity

Technology News |
By Jean-Pierre Joosting



A new microwave radiation sensor with 100,000 times higher sensitivity than currently available commercial sensors has been developed by researchers funded by the US Army. This sensor, a microwave bolometer, will enable improved thermal imaging, electronic warfare, radio communications and radar.

The research team includes scientists from Harvard University, The Institute of Photonic Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Pohang University of Science and Technology, and Raytheon BBN Technologies. The Army, in part, funded the work to fabricate this bolometer by exploiting the giant thermal response of graphene to microwave radiation.

“The microwave bolometer developed under this project is so sensitive that it is capable of detecting a single microwave photon, which is the smallest amount of energy in nature,” said Dr. Joe Qiu, program manager for solid-state electronics and electromagnetics, Army Research Office, an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory. “This technology will potentially enable new capabilities for applications such as quantum sensing and radar, and ensure the U.S. Army maintains spectral dominance in the foreseeable future.”

The graphene microwave bolometer sensor detects electromagnetic radiation by measuring the temperature rise as the photons are absorbed into the sensor. Graphene, a 2D, one-atom layer thick material, incorporated in the microwave antenna enables a high bolometer sensitivity.

The microwave bolometer developed under this project is capable of detecting a single microwave photon, the smallest amount of energy in nature. Image courtesy of Raytheon BBN Technologies.

Key to this innovation is the use of a superconducting Josephson junction to measure the temperature rise while maintaining a high microwave radiation coupling into the graphene through an antenna. The researchers say the coupling efficiency is essential in a high sensitivity detection because “every precious photon counts.”

A Josephson junction is a quantum mechanical device which is made of two superconducting electrodes separated by a barrier (thin insulating tunnel barrier, normal metal, semiconductor, ferromagnet, etc.)

In addition to being thin, the electrons in graphene are also in a very special band structure in which the valence and conduction bands meet at only one point, known as Dirac point.

“The density of states vanishes there so that when the electrons receive the photon energy, the temperature rise is high while the heat leakage is small,” said Dr. Kin Chung Fong, Raytheon BBN Technologies.

With increased sensitivity of bolometer detectors, this research has found a new pathway to improve the performance of systems detecting electromagnetic signal such as radar, night vision, LIDAR, and communication. It could also enable new applications such as quantum information science, thermal imaging as well as the search of dark matter.


The part of the research conducted at MIT included work from the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies. The U.S. Army established the institute in 2002 as an interdisciplinary research center to dramatically improve protection, survivability and mission capabilities of the Soldier and of Soldier-supporting platforms and systems.

CCDC Army Research Laboratory is an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command. As the Army’s corporate research laboratory, ARL discovers, innovates and transitions science and technology to ensure dominant strategic land power. Through collaboration across the command’s core technical competencies, CCDC leads in the discovery, development and delivery of the technology-based capabilities required to make Soldiers more lethal to win the nation’s wars and come home safely. CCDC is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command.

Paper: https://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-2752-4

www.arl.army.mil

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