Tech Briefs

Transition-Edge Hot-Electron Microbolometers for Millimeter and Submillimeter Astrophysics

New instruments promise to expand the investigation of cosmic microwave background radiation and its polarization to get better insight into the evolution of the universe.

The millimeter and the submillimeter wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum hold a wealth of information about the evolution of the universe. In particular, cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation and its polarization carry the oldest information in the universe, and provide the best test of the inflationary paradigm available to astronomy today. Detecting gravity waves through their imprint on the CMB polarization would have extraordinary repercussions for cosmology and physics.

A transition-edge hot-electron microbolometer (THM) consists of a superconducting bilayer transition-edge sensor (TES) with a thin-film absorber. Unlike traditional monolithic bolometers that make use of micromachined structures, the THM em ploys the decoupling between electrons and phonons at millikelvin temperatures to provide thermal isolation. The devices are fabricated photolithographically and are easily integrated with antennas via microstrip transmission lines, and with SQUID (superconducting quantum interference device) readouts. The small volume of the absorber and TES produces a short thermal time constant that facilitates rapid sky scanning.

The THM consists of a thin-film metal absorber overlapping a superconducting TES. The absorber forms the termination of a superconducting microstripline that carries RF power from an antenna. The purpose of forming a separate absorber and TES is to allow flexibility in the optimization of the two components. In particular, the absorbing film’s impedance can be chosen to match the antenna, while the TES impedance can be chosen to match to the readout SQUID amplifier. This scheme combines the advantages of the TES with the advantages of planar millimeter-wave transmission line circuits.

Antenna-coupling to the detectors via planar transmission lines allows the detector dimensions to be much smaller than a wavelength, so the technique can be extended across the entire microwave, millimeter, and submillimeter wavelength ranges. The circuits are fabricated using standard microlithographic techniques and are compatible with uniform, large array formats. Unlike traditional monolithic bolometers that make use of micromachined structures, the THM employs the decoupling between electrons and phonons at millikelvin temperatures to provide thermal isolation. There is no fragile membrane in the structure for thermal isolation, which improves the fabrication yield.

This work was done by Wen-Ting Hsieh, Thomas Stevenson, Kongpop U-yen, and Edward Wollack of Goddard Space Flight Center; and Emily Barrentine of the University of Wisconsin at Madison. GSC-16656-1

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