Military Embedded Systems

Sensor purported to be 100,000 times more sensitive than currently available under study by Army team

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November 05, 2020

Lisa Daigle

Assistant Managing Editor

Military Embedded Systems

Sensor purported to be 100,000 times more sensitive than currently available under study by Army team
Image: U.S. Army

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. A team headed by the U.S. Army Research Lab  (ARL) announced that it has made a new microwave-radiation sensor with 100,000 times higher sensitivity than currently available commercial sensors, a development that could enable improved thermal imaging, electronic warfare, radio communications, and radar.

The team -- which published its study in a recent issue of the journal Nature -- includes scientists and engineers from ARL, Harvard University, The Institute of Photonic Sciences, MIT, the Pohang (South Korea) University of Science and Technology, and Raytheon BBN Technologies.

The research team's bolometer sensor is made in part from graphene, which is a very sensitive, two-dimensional, single-atom-layer thick material; the sensor detects electromagnetic radiation by measuring the rise in temperature as the photons are absorbed into the sensor. 

“The microwave bolometer developed under this project is so sensitive that it is capable of detecting a single microwave photon, which is the smallest amount of energy in nature,” said Dr. Joe Qiu, program manager for solid-state electronics and electromagnetics, Army Research Office, an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory. “This technology will potentially enable new capabilities for applications such as quantum sensing and radar, and ensure the U.S. Army maintains spectral dominance in the foreseeable future.”

Army documents claim that increased sensitivity of bolometer detectors blazes a new pathway to improve the performance of systems detecting electromagnetic signals such as radar, night vision, LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), and communications and could also speed up the development of new applications such as quantum information science, thermal imaging, and the search for dark matter. 

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