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NIST Super-Sensors to Measure ‘Signature’ of Inflationary Universe (back to video)

 

Cosmic Sensors Video Description for the Visually Impaired

Text on screen: NIST, National Institute of Standards and Technology, U.S. Department of Commerce

Visual: A computer-generated image of a satellite in space. The Earth, the moon, and the sun are visible against a background of stars.

Narrator: SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE INDICATES THAT THE UNIVERSE BEGAN WITH THE BIG BANG MORE THAN 13 BILLION YEARS AGO .

Visual: The camera moves backward rapidly past Mars, the asteroid belt, Jupiter, and Saturn, panning back farther through clouds of gas until the Milky Way galaxy finally comes into view.

Narrator: . BUT LESS IS KNOWN ABOUT HOW IT TURNED INTO THE UNIVERSE WE SEE TODAY. SCIENTISTS BELIEVE THAT A TINY FRACTION OF A SECOND AFTER THE BIG BANG, A SUDDEN GROWTH SPURT, KNOWN AS COSMIC INFLATION, OCCURRED, BUT HOW CAN SCIENCE PROVE INFLATION REALLY HAPPENED?

RESEARCHERS AT THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF STANDARDS AND TECHNOLOGY, OR NIST .

Visual: The scene changes briefly to reveal a scientist peering into a microscope at his workstation before fading back as the camera continues to hurtle through space.

: HAVE DEVELOPED NOVEL SENSORS THAT CAN DETECT THE MICROWAVE RADIATION LEFT OVER FROM THE EARLY UNIVERSE.

THIS MICROWAVE RADIATION MAY CONTAIN A KEY FINGERPRINT OF COSMIC INFLATION.

Visual: The Milky Way fades from view, becoming one of thousands of galaxies.

NIST physicist Kent Irwin speaking.

Irwin: One of the exciting new projects we are working on is actually a fundamental science program and that is to actually develop the very sensitive measurement technology to try to measure the gravitational waves that were emitted right after the Big Bang-in the first trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second.

Visual: The image of Kent fades and is replaced by a computer-generated map of the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the faint afterglow of the Big Bang that still fills the universe. The oval image of the CMB is spotted with areas of deep blue, signifying slightly colder parts of the universe, with light blue, green, yellow and red, signifying slightly warmer spots.

Narrator: THE NIST DETECTOR RECORDS THE FAINT SIGNALS LEFT OVER FROM THE BIG BANG, KNOWN AS THE COSMIC MICROWAVE BACKGROUND.

THE TECHNIQUE WILL MEASURE THE POLARIZATION OF THE BACKGROUND MICROWAVES-THE PATTERNS AND DIRECTIONS IN THE MICROWAVES' ELECTRIC FIELDS.

Visual: The camera zooms into a blue section of the CMB image before fading away to reveal a cropped image of the CMB with tiny black lines pointing in different directions, representing slight variations in the directions of the cosmic microwaves' electric fields at different points in the sky.

Image fades.

NIST research associate Ki Won Yoon speaking.

Text on screen: Ki Won Yoon, NIST research associate.

Yoon: The inflation theory predicts that the early universe was awash in gravitational waves that would leave a very unique signature on the polarization of the cosmic microwave background.

Visual: Image changes to reveal a computer animation of a translucent light-blue three-dimensional rectangle against a black background. The top of the rectangle ripples with waves like water in a pool before the waves are replaced with a cropped image of the CMB. The rectangle spins so that the image faces the screen. The full CMB image appears behind it and the cropped image falls back to join the larger picture.

Narrator: WHEN THIS COSMIC MICROWAVE BACKGROUND RADIATION REACHES THE EARTH, A GROUNDBREAKING ARRAY OF DETECTORS WILL CAPTURE IT WITH UNPRECEDENTED DETAIL, BEHAVING SOMETHING LIKE THE PIXELS IN AN ADVANCED DIGITAL CAMERA.

Visual: Image of the NIST sensor, an electronic chip with circuit lines radiating from a central square.  Four arrow-shaped features point outward.

Kent Irwin, holding a CMB globe.

Text on screen: Kent Irwin, NIST physicist.

Irwin: If we can measure not only the temperature of the universe from the Big Bang, but also the polarization, which is the direction that the light is wiggling in, then we can kind of do an inversion and actually map those gravity waves.

Narrator: THE NEW TECHNOLOGY IS MADE OF MANY MICRO-SENSORS COMBINED WITH OPTICAL SYSTEMS TO COLLECT AND FOCUS THE RADIATION.

Visual: A hand positions a square tray holding several of the NIST sensor chips beneath a bright light shining on a brushed metal surface.

Narrator: IT WILL SEARCH FOR A TELLTALE PATTERN OF POLARIZATION ON THE SKY, KNOWN AS B-MODE POLARIZATION.

Visual: A scientist sits at her workstation peering into a microscope as she adjusts its focus.

A cropped image of the CMB map with tiny lines like pegs set at different orientations superimposed to represent the slight variations in polarization of the CMB microwaves in different parts of the sky.

Ki Won Yoon speaking.

Yoon: By being able to measure B-mode polarization that would be the unique signature of gravity waves in the early universe.

Narrator: THE KEY GOAL IS TO MAKE THE DETECTOR SENSITIVE ENOUGH TO RECORD THIS POLARIZATION.

Visual: A hand moves a circular clear plastic tray across a brushed metal surface and positions the tray beneath a bright light. The tray holds a highly polished disk holding the NIST sensor, a densely patterned rectangular computer chip.

Kent Irwin speaking. He holds the encased NIST sensor in his left hand, which is resting on the CMB globe.

Irwin: To do that we have to have very fancy superconducting antenna structures and use some fancy signal processing on the wafer-a lot of new things there.

Narrator: TO DO SO, THE SCIENTISTS ARE TAKING ADVANTAGE OF AN UNUSUAL EFFECT OF ELECTRCITY.

Visual: The camera shows a microscope in a darkened room and pans to the right to reveal a seated Kent Irwin peering into a microscope.

Narrator: THE NIST SENSORS OPERATE IN THE STATE BETWEEN NORMAL ELECTRICAL CONDUCTIVITY AND SUPERCONDUCTIVITY .

Visual: A close-up of the NIST sensor moves back and forth on a computer screen on his desk as Kent Irwin adjusts the sensors position beneath his microscope with his left hand while adjusting the focus of the microscope with his right.

Narrator: THE FLOW OF ELECTRIC CURRENT WITHOUT RESISTANCE. INCOMING MICROWAVES HEAT UP THE DETECTOR AND DISRUPT THE CURRENT FLOW IN THIS UNUSUAL STATE.

Visual: A computer animation shows a thermometer with a single hash mark labeled as 0.5 K, a radial gauge numbered 1 to 6 and labeled "milli-ohms," with the needle resting at 2, and a three-dimensional blue rectangle, representing the NIST sensor, with small, light blue dots, representing electrons, moving through it from left to right. All are set against a black background.

Larger glowing yellow dots representing microwaves fall on and are absorbed by the NIST sensor, which turns magenta as it heats up. As the electrons stop flowing through the sensor, the thermometer jumps above 0.5 K and the milli-ohms gauge reads 5.

The microwaves disappear, and the temperature goes down, the milli-ohms return to 2, and the sensor cools to blue.

Kent Irwin speaking.

Irwin: You go from absolutely having no resistance at all to having some ordinary resistance. And that, it turns out, makes a very, very sensitive thermometer. And we can measure almost any signal if we just turn it into a heat that applies to that superconducting material-a transition-edge sensor-right on that very sharp transition between the superconducting state and the normal state that we're used to.

Narrator: DEPLOYING THESE SENSORS ON TELESCOPES AND OTHER COSMOLOGICAL INSTRUMENTS .

Visual: A pair of tweezers lifts a small square sensor chip from a tray holding other chips. A NIST researcher looks up from her microscope.

Narrator: COULD HELP ASTRONOMERS CONFIRM OR RULE OUT INFLATIONARY THEORIES.

Visual: Filling the screen is an image of the very early universe--fiery red, yellow and orange in color.

Narrator: BUT THIS NEW TECHNOLOGY ALSO MIGHT HELP VERIFY THAT NATIONS ARE COMPLYING WITH NUCLEAR NON-PROLIFERATION TREATIES, AS WELL AS PROVIDE THE ABILITY TO DETECT HIGH FREQUENCY TERAHERTZ WAVES, WHICH ARE VALUABLE IN MEDICAL IMAGING.

An image of the Earth from space fades to reveal an industrial plant with a tall smokestack stretching into a blue sky.

A scientist adjusts an oscilloscope; a doctor looks at a panel of x-ray images of knee joints on her computer screen.

Narrator: THIS NEW TECHNOLOGY WILL HELP US DEAL WITH MODERN CHALLENGES AND LEARN MORE ABOUT HOW OUR UNIVERSE BEGAN.

The NIST sensor appears and fades replaced by an image of stars with multiple colors partly obscured by a bluish-grey haze of interstellar dust, which dissipates and clears.

Text on screen: Produced by National Institute of Standards and Technology Public Affairs Office, May 2009

Video footage and still images provided with permission by NASA/WMAP science team, Bill Pietsch/Astronaut 3 Media Group, Corbis Royalty-Free Collection

For more info, contact: inquiries@nist.gov