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November 13, 2006

Seeing with superconductors

The November issue of Scientific American, has an article "Seeing with Superconductors Scientific and industrial photon detectors peer into the electromagnetic realms beyond that of visible light--into the low-frequency (long-wavelength, low-energy) world of infrared and microwaves and into the high-frequency regime of x-rays and gamma rays. Superconductors can see visible and longer wavelengths and detect an individual photon and discern its frequency, and thus its energy, with accuracy. The superconductors have sensitivities that are 50 times greater than the best recent systems. This means that new nuclear detectors can tell the difference between the radium 226 in cat litter and uranium 238 in dirty bombs and nuclear weapons.

The new superconductor devices will also revolutionize the analysis of microchips, submillimeter band astronomy, the study of the cosmic microwave background, quantum cryptography and the search for dark matter. Superconducting detectors that can measure photon numbers efficiently at telecommunication wavelengths with a negligible error rate, opening the way to secure quantum cryptography over a distance of 100 kilometers.

Here is a pdf that describes the 10,000 pixel submillimeter SCUBA-2 , which perform surveys of the sky 1000 times faster than SCUBA-1. All areas of astronomy will benefit, from studies of our Solar System and surveys of protostellar complexes in the Milky Way, to answering key questions about the formation and evolution of galaxies in the early Universe.

SCUBA 2 represents a major innovation from current submillimetre instruments. Incorporating state-of-the-art technology will allow the realisation of the first large-format "CCD-like" camera for submillimetre astronomy.

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