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Quantum Sensors Division

The Quantum Sensors Division, part of NIST’s Physical Measurement Laboratory, advances the detection of photons and particles in a variety of application areas using superconducting sensors and readout electronics.

The Quantum Sensors Division develops advanced photon and particle sensors to measure energy and power more precisely than traditional technologies. The sensors make use of (1) quantum effects, especially superconductivity, to provide high responsivity and (2) ultra-low temperatures to suppress noise. Signals of interest span the electromagnetic spectrum from millimeter-waves produced in the earliest moments of the universe to gamma-rays produced by nuclear fuel.

The Quantum Sensors Division applies advanced sensors to challenging measurement problems in a wide range of fields. The work often involves collaboration with companies and research institutes outside of NIST. Devices fabricated by the Division have been used in places that include outer space, the South Pole, the Atacama Plateau, the summit of Mauna Kea, nuclear laboratories, quantum computers, particle accelerators and synchrotrons.

The Quantum Sensors Division has existed in various forms since its creation in the early 1990s.  Over this span of time, the Division has grown to more than 50 scientists, technicians, engineers, and students. Members of the Division have done pioneering research on topics that include superconducting transition-edge sensors, SQUID multiplexing, parametric amplifiers, microwave kinetic inductance detectors, and several types of advanced refrigerators.

The Quantum Sensors Division is presently divided into 4 groups:

Major activities of the Quantum Sensors Division include:

  • superconducting x-ray and gamma-ray spectrometers for applications that include materials analysis and nuclear materials accounting
  • superconducting microbolometers for applications that include understanding the early universe and concealed weapons detection
  • advanced cryogenics to aid the dissemination of quantum electronics
  • the determination of atomic and nuclear reference data to facilitate materials analysis
  • support of U.S. industries that develop or use cryogenics, quantum sensors, and quantum computing

Some current projects include the Athena x-ray satellite, Simons Observatory, and CMB-S4. Please see the NIST Measuring the Cosmos page for more details.

News and Updates

Projects and Programs


To process information from quantum circuits and systems, it is important to have amplifiers with wide bandwidth, high dynamic range, and extremely low noise


Low temperatures suppress noise and make quantum phenomena accessible. As a result, cryogenics play a crucial role in precision measurements.

Detector Readout Project

The Sensor Readout Project within the Quantum Electronics Group leverages the sensitivity of superconducting quantum interference devices (SQUIDs), low-noise


Press Coverage


Compact Low-power Cryo-Cooling Systems For Superconducting Elements

NIST Inventors
Joel Ullom and Vincent Kotsubo
A compact, low power cryo-cooler for cryogenic systems capable of cooling gas to at least as low as 2.5 K. The cryo-cooler has a room temperature compressor followed by filtration. Within the cryostat, four counterflow heat exchangers precool the incoming high-pressure gas using the outflowing low
X-Ray Spectrometer

X-Ray Spectrometer

NIST Inventors
Kevin L. Silverman , Carl D. Reintsema , Galen O'Neil , Luis Miaja Avila , Daniel Swetz , W.Bertrand (Randy) Doriese , Dan Schmidt , Bradley Alpert , Joseph Fowler , Joel Ullom , Ralph Jimenez and Gene C. Hilton
This invention includes: an x-ray plasma source that produces primary x-rays; an x-ray optic that transmits and focuses the primary x-ray onto a sample jet from which fluorescence x-ray are emitted; and a microcalorimeter array detector that measures the energy of the incoming fluorescence x-rays


Division Chief and Deputy Division Chief

Division Secretary