University of Jyväskylä

European funding for developing a new type of radiation detector

European commission has awarded three-million euros to a research consortium SUPERTED, which will develop ultrasensitive sensors of electromagnetic radiation based on hybrid structures of superconductors and magnets. The consortium, lead by researchers at the University of Jyväskylä, includes research groups and a technology company from Finland, Spain, Italy and France.

The goal of the four-year project is to develop a new type of a device that solves the heating problems in present sensors, and thereby facilitates building large detector arrays. These detectors can be used for many applications, including measurements of cosmic radiation, materials analysis, ultrasensitive thermal imaging, and studies of microbiological samples.

Novel method for sensing radiation

Many advances in science are liked to imaging technologies. Our knowledge of the structure of the universe and the progress in medicine rely on the ability to measure electromagnetic radiation even on a level of single light particles, photons. The best currently used detector technologies rely on superconducting structures, and their sensitivity has progressed recently for example due to the advances in nanomanufacturing technologies. The next goal is to add the number of detector pixels in single devices. The presently known technologies are hampered by the heating of the detectors, reducing their sensitivity. SUPERTED tries to find a solution to this problem, based on the giant thermoelectric effect found by some of the consortium members.

Thermoelectric effect was found by accident

In the presently used sensors the radiation is read out via the use of a probe signal. Such a probe heats up the device and makes the fabrication of the sensor complicated. In a thermoelectric sensor the radiation power is directly converted to the detector signal, and no separate probe is needed. “The idea is old, but the problem has been to find a strong enough thermoelectric effect. We found it in 2014 by accident as we were studying the properties of hybrid structures of superconductors and magnets. Our theoretical prediction was experimentally demonstrated in 2016”, the consortium leader Prof. Tero Heikkilä from the University of Jyväskylä department of physics explains the background of the project. After this Heikkilä with his colleagues realized the usefulness of this phenomenon in detector technology. Heikkilä has also developed the concept in a Key Funding project of the Academy of Finland. Now the idea is to realize the first thermoelectric sensors.

Consortium links basic research and sensor applications

Besides University of Jyväskylä, SUPERTED includes research groups from San Sebastian in Spain (Materials Physics Center, CSIC), Pisa in Italy (CNR), Grenoble in France (CNRS) and a technology company Bihurcrystal. The consortium includes theoretical physicists, surface physicists, experimental nanophysicists and superconducting detector experts. It also has strong connections to groups studying and companies utilizing superconducting detectors, from observatories to security imaging and even studying the authenticity of art.

thermoelectric detector
In a thermoelectric detector the absorbed radiation turns into a<br /> temperature difference, which causes the electrical signal to be read out.

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