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NIST-on-a-Chip Patents

NIST is developing intrinsically accurate, ultra-compact, and inexpensive quantum-based measurement technologies to measure time and frequency, distance, mass and force, temperature and pressure, electrical and magnetic fields, current and voltage, fluid volume and flow and more.  These disruptive technologies are being deployed nearly everywhere, performing uninterrupted without the need for NIST’s traditional measurement services.  These innovative technologies are called NIST-on-a-Chip (NoaC).  Eight of these technologies are highlighted here.  For more information on NoaC  technologies including additional inventions, visit:

Radiometer and Method for use of same, 9,291,499, issued on March 22, 2019

Docket number Inventors Description

John Lehman

Nathan Tomlin

This invention is a thermal detector for optical and infrared radiation.  The basis of the detector is a multiwall carbon nanotube array operating as a bolometer on micromachined silicon.  The multiwall carbon nanotube array is multifunctional:  heater, thermometer and radiation absorber.  The micromachined silicon is a multifunctional platform for electrical wiring and the detector’s heat link.  The heater provides a means to calibrate the detector electrically (voltage applied).  What is new is that the detector is produced using technology common to semiconductor manufacturing.  Therefore, many duplicates or variations on a basic design can be produced on a relatively inexpensive silicon wafer.

This approach may be scaled to other detector technology such as imaging arrays and multi-element sensors. It can work as a bolometer that manifests a change in electrical resistance as a function of temperature change.  The temperature change may be either by optical (and infrared) absorption and heating or electrical heating.  Therefore, the detector may be electrically calibrated and function as an optical detector.  The invention solves the problem of disseminating high-accuracy and infrared measurement capability beneficial for industrial, scientific and defense applications, sensing visible and infrared radiation, thermal imaging, and other sensing.


Optical Flow Meter, 10,151,681, issued on December 11, 2018

Docket number Inventors Description

Zeeshan Ahmed

Gregory Cooksey

Optofluidics is the marriage of microfluidics and optical technology.  The NIST optical flow meter provides on chip assessment of flow and heat transfer resulting in improvement in fluid metrology and advances in biological sensing.  Most current pressure measurements rely on external pressure transducers.  However, due to pressure dissipation and delays in transmission, it is difficult to accurately measure local pressure in a microfluidic chip using that approach.  Our invention integrates the pressure sensor into the microfluidic chip and provides measurement of microscale forces (pressure).  Accurately measuring flow rates is critical to various microfluidic applications such as droplet formation, particle sorting, flow cytometry and mixing.


Atomic magnetometer and method of sensing magnetic fields, 8,334,690, issued on December 18, 2012

Docket number Inventors Description

John Kitching

Svenja Knappe

Jan Preusser

Vladislav Greginov

The ability to detect faint magnetic fields is particularly important in physiological mapping of the brain and heart.  The current state of the art makes use of superconducting quantum interface devices (SQUIDS) which requires a pickup coil that must be kept at cryogenic temperatures.  This in turn requires complex and expensive equipment which results in slow market growth in medical fields which use magnetoencephalography (MEG) to diagnose disorders such as epilepsy, autism, schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia.  Our invention builds upon and surpasses the capabilities of prior art.  It uses lasers to detect the interaction between alkali metal atoms in a vapor and the magnetic field and does not require the use of cryogenic cooling.  As this laser-pumped atomic magnetometer, also referred to as an optically-pumped magnetometer (OPM), does not generate an electrical field, it does not disturb the magnetic environment around the sample being monitored.


Compact atomic magnetometer and gyroscope based on a diverging laser beam, 7,872,473, issued on January 18, 2011

Docket number Inventors Description

John Ktiching

Elizabeth Donley

Eleanor Hodby

Andrei Shkel

E. Jesper Eklund

Gyroscopes sense rotation. In combination with magnetometers, gyroscopes are used in inertial navigation and platform stabilization applications. Our invention is the first to demonstrate simultaneous measurement of rotation, rotation angle and acceleration with a single source of atoms. Multiple addressable markets exist based on the combined performance of the magnetometer and gyroscope in inertial navigation systems (INS). A variety of magnetometer/ gyroscope combinations exist but are expensive.  The compact atomic gyroscope enables multitasking measurement capabilities. It simultaneously measures rotation, rotation angle and acceleration with a single source of atoms. The problem was that signal strength and data acquisition speed needed to be increased to enable increased sensitivity measurements. In addition, a smaller design was needed for use in compact systems that could be used in the field. This invention solves these issues. The design could be implemented with a micro machined alkali vapor cell and light from a single semiconductor laser. A small modification to the cell contents and excitation geometry allows for use as a gyroscope. Atomic magnetometers are scalar sensors, which means they sense the magnitude of the magnetic field, rather than the projection along one spatial direction. This is particularly important for applications on moving platforms since platform motion adds considerable noise to a vector sensor as the angle between the field and the sensor axis changes. Multiple applications of gyroscopes exist within Inertial navigation system (INS) as well as multiple end-use applications including manned aircraft, automotive and autonomous vehicles.


Photon Momentum Sensor, 10,234,309, issued on March 19, 2019

Docket number Inventors Description

Alexandra Artusio-Glimpse

John Lehman

Michelle Stephens

Nathan Tomlin

Paul Williams

Ivan Ryger

Lasers play many roles in manufacturing processes. To control these tasks, manufacturers must ensure that their lasers fire at the correct power. However, to date there has been no way to precisely measure laser power during a manufacturing process. Without this information, some manufacturers may have to spend more time and money assessing whether their parts meet manufacturing specifications AFTER production.

The challenge addressed with the "photon momentum sensor", more commonly called the smart mirror, is to create a compact laser power sensor that could be included in the laser head and potentially be used in fast inline process monitoring. It is a radiation-pressure power meter (RPPM) that employs a dual spring detector concept. Two identical springs are used in a tandem configuration that mitigates environmental vibration signals, as well as errors due to changes in the sensor tilt. This method improves both sensitivity and speed (250 times faster than RPPM) and makes it a strong candidate for use in applications requiring a small compact sensor.

The smart mirror provides new opportunities for manufacturers of lasers used in additive manufacturing (interchangeably known as 3D printing) and welding which require low-beam intensity in the mid-range. This approach allows the sensor to be embedded at the end of a robotic arm or in additive manufacturing and laser welding systems where the laser head will move and rotate. The size and reliability of this device enables it to be incorporated within the laser itself and measure performance while the laser is being used. This will help accelerate the parts qualification process. 

 Possible markets include additive manufacturing and laser welding applications that require low beam intensity in the mid-range. Sample applications include the production of medical devices, dentistry and aerospace applications. Established markets that use additive manufacturing in medical technology, dental, and aerospace applications are robust and expanding globally. Welding applications also are a potential target.


Integrated microchip incorporating atomic magnetometer and microfluidic channel for NMR and MRI, 7,994,783, issued on August 9, 2011

Docket number Inventors Description

Micah Ledbetter

Igor Savukov

Dmitry Budker

Vishal Shah

Svenja Knappe

John Kitching

David Michalak

Shoujun Xu

Alexander Pines

Superconducting nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy instruments are expensive and require cryogenic cooling. Due to market demand and technological advances, the presence of benchtop NMR that do not require cryo-cooling has been increasing. Benchtop NMR are highly advantageous for academic researchers as well as chemists working in industrial laboratories. Compact and portable Magnetic Resonant Imaging (MRI) also called Battlefield MRI have been recently demonstrated and hold the promise of making life-saving information available to doctors on the battlefield or in remote areas quickly. In both cases, more compact, and less expensive NMR and MRI that do not require cryo-cooling will make these instruments increasingly available.

Low-field MRI is a growing area of interest which places more challenges on magnetometers – specifically they must operate with high sensitivity at very low frequencies associated with low magnetic fields. This invention uses very small alkali vapor cells with a sensitivity sufficient for detecting very small DC magnetic fields produced by a small sample of fluid without cryo-cooling. The fabrication process allows for integration of the alkali vapor cell (cesium, rubidium, and potassium) adjacent to a microfluidic channel within an integral microfluidic device. The fabrication process, based on lithographically-defined patterning, is highly scalable. End-use applications include benchtop NMR, microfluidics, MRI, and reservoir analysis.


Detection of J-coupling using atomic magnetometer, 9,140,657, issued on September 22, 2015

Docket number Inventors Description

David Wemmer

Charles Crawford

John Kitching

Dmitry Budker

Alex Pines

Svenja Knappe

Micah Ledbetter

Zero- to ultralow-field nuclear magnetic resonance (ZULF NMR) spectroscopy has emerged as a new, potentially portable and cost-effective NMR modality to determine the molecular structure and properties of microfluidic chemical samples, using chemical signatures known as J-couplings or scalar coupling. Conventional NMR spectrometers are large and utilize superconducting magnets operating at liquid helium temperatures. This precludes their use in many situations where NMR would be beneficial. Benchtop NMR spectrometers are currently available operating in the 60 MHz range. However, they often lack the desired sensitivity. To develop a portable ZULF NMR spectrometer with improved sensitivity, a number of challenges must be addressed.  The approach that holds great promise is to develop an atomic magnetometer that will have the desired level of sensitivity in a low (Earth’s field) or near-zero magnetic field. This approach eliminates the need for cryogenic cooling and provides high sensitivity to samples of microliter volumes. It is anticipated that this invention may provide a new modality for high precision ‘J spectroscopy’ using small samples on microchip devices for multiplexed screening, assaying and sample identification in chemistry and biomedicine. It can be used widely in both pure research environments and industry.  Additonally, this invention can be used for pharmaceutical drug discovery, chemical production, security monitoring applications, drug design, catalyst evaluation and optimization, pharmaceutical and biomedical research tools, portable NMR detectors, and the detection of liquid explosives. Potential partners include instrument manufacturers of NMR detectors used in the pharmaceutical, biomedical and other industries for drug design, catalyst evaluation and liquid explosive detection.


Optical Meter and use of same, 9,625,313, issued April 18, 2017

Docket number Inventors Description

John Lehman

Paul Williams

Robert Lee

Frank Maring

Lasers play many roles in manufacturing processes. To control these tasks, manufacturers must ensure that their lasers fire at the correct power. However, to date there has been no way to precisely measure laser power during a manufacturing process. The current practice is to use an external optical meter to measure laser output during testing, but NOT during the manufacturing process. The most fundamental method for checking the performance of a laser is to measure its power or energy output. Conventional techniques for gauging laser power require an apparatus that absorbs all the energy from the beam as heat. Measuring the temperature change allows researchers to calculate the laser's power. The problem with this approach however, is that you cannot use the laser while measuring performance. Without this information some manufacturers may have to spend more time and money assessing whether their parts meet manufacturing specifications after production.

This patent presents an alternative for measuring performance based on heat, instead measuring performance based on radiation pressure. NIST provides the RPPM as a Standard Reference Instrument which is available for purchase. Possible markets include 3D printing and welding. Other potential applications include directed energy weapons and robotic lasers used in the production of automobiles.

Created November 7, 2019, Updated August 23, 2023