Researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), both in Pasadena, have developed a new type of amplifier for boosting electrical signals. The device can be used for everything from studying stars, galaxies and black holes to exploring the quantum world and developing quantum computers.
“This amplifier will redefine what it is possible to measure,” said Jonas Zmuidzinas, chief technologist at JPL, who is Caltech’s Merle Kingsley Professor of Physics and a member of the research team.
An amplifier is a device that increases the strength of a weak signal. “Amplifiers play a basic role in a wide range of scientific measurements and in electronics in general,” said Peter Day, a principal scientist at JPL and a visiting associate in physics at Caltech. “For many tasks, current amplifiers are good enough. But for the most demanding applications, the shortcomings of the available technologies limit us.”
The new amplifier (above) consists of a superconducting material, niobium titanium nitride, coiled into a double spiral 16 millimeters in diameter.
Although the amplifier has a host of potential applications, the reason the researchers built the device was to help them study the universe. The team built the instrument to boost microwave signals, but the new design can be used to build amplifiers that help astronomers observe in a wide range of wavelengths, from radio waves to X-rays.