Researchers at JPL and Caltech have developed an instrument for exploring the universe and the quantum world. This new type of amplifier (a device that increases the strength of a weak signal) boosts electrical signals and can be used for everything from studying stars, galaxies and black holes to exploring the quantum world and developing quantum computers. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
One of the key features of the new amplifier is that it incorporates superconductors -materials that allow an electric current to flow with zero resistance when lowered to certain temperatures. For their amplifier, the researchers are using titanium nitride and niobium titanium nitride, which have just the right properties to allow the pump signal to amplify the weak signal.
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.