NASA's Superconductor-Stuffed Amplifier Will Collect Clear Signals From Deep Space

By using the superconductors titanium nitride and niobium titanium nitride as the core of their new amplifier, researchers at Caltech and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory will be able to collect signals from black holes and quantum particles alike with little-to no noise mucking up the sensitive data.

The use of superconductors allows electrons to flow throw the amplifier without resistance at low temperatures. Implementing this technology in a parametric amplifier—a type of amplifier that normally only works over a narrow range of frequencies—researchers have developed such a device that can operate over more frequencies than ever with greater sensitivity.

But the Caltech and JPL researchers say their new amplifier, which is a type of parametric amplifier, combines only the best features of other amplifiers. It operates over a frequency range more than ten times wider than other comparably sensitive amplifiers, can amplify strong signals without distortion, and introduces nearly the lowest amount of unavoidable noise.

In principle, the researchers say, design improvements should be able to reduce that noise to the absolute minimum. Versions of the amplifier can be designed to work at frequencies ranging from a few gigahertz to a terahertz (1,000 GHz). For comparison, a gigahertz is about 10 times greater than commercial FM radio signals in the US, which range from about 88 to 108 megahertz (1 GHz is 1,000 MHz).

So far the tangible benefits of such technology are vague—they say they'll better be able to study stars, galaxies and black holes—but JPL is currently working the technology into active antennas. And JPL also says it the technology is sensitive enough to help those studying quantum mechanics, and could even be used in the development of quantum computers. [Caltech Caltech via Futurity]