by Staff Writers
Delft, Netherlands (SPX) Feb 03, 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 TU Delft 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.
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.
Space Telescope News and Technology at Skynightly.com
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