Physical Sciences

Optical Beam-Shear Sensors

Simple sensors measure radiant fluxes in beam quadrants. A technique for measuring optical beam shear is based on collecting light from the four quadrants of the beam and comparing the optical power collected from each quadrant with that from the other three quadrants. As used here, “shear” signifies lateral displacement of a beam of light from a nominal optical axis.

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Flexible Skins Containing Integrated Sensors and Circuitry

Densely arrayed tactile sensors measure multiple, spatially registered physical quantities simultaneously. Artificial sensor skins modeled partly in imitation of biological sensor skins are undergoing development. These sensor skins comprise flexible polymer substrates that contain and/or support dense one- and two-dimensional arrays of microscopic sensors and associated microelectronic circuits. They afford multiple tactile sensing modalities for measuring physical phenomena that can include contact forces; hardnesses, temperatures, and thermal conductivities of objects with which they are in contact; and pressures, shear stresses, and flow velocities in fluids. The sensor skins are mechanically robust, and, because of their flexibility, they can be readily attached to curved and possibly moving and flexing surfaces of robots, wind-tunnel models, and other objects that one might seek to equip for tactile sensing.

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Protein Sensors Based on Optical Ring Resonators

Progress has been achieved in the continuing development of optical chemical sensors. Prototype transducers based on integrated optical ring resonators have been demonstrated to be useful for detecting the protein avidin in extremely dilute solutions. In an experiment, one of the transducers proved to be capable of indicating the presence of avidin at a concentration of as little as 300 pM in a buffer solution — a detection sensitivity comparable to that achievable by previously reported protein-detection techniques. These transducers are serving as models for the further development of integrated-optics sensors for detecting small quantities of other proteins and protein like substances.

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Boundary Condition for Modeling Semiconductor Nanostructures

Simulation domains are truncated without introducing spurious surface quantum states. A recently proposed boundary condition for atomistic computational modeling of semiconductor nanostructures (particularly, quantum dots) is an improved alternative to two prior such boundary conditions. As explained below, this boundary condition helps to reduce the amount of computation while maintaining accuracy.

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Phase Sensor for Aligning a Segmented Telescope Mirror

Alignment can be maintained even in the presence of atmospheric turbulence. A phase sensor has been developed for use in aligning a segmented telescope mirror to within a fraction of a wavelength in piston. (As used here, “piston” signifies displacement of a mirror segment along the optical axis of the telescope.) Such precise alignment is necessary in order to realize the full benefit of the large aperture achievable through segmentation.

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Lightweight Mirrors for Orbiting Earth-Observing Instruments

A report discusses selected aspects of a continuing program to develop thermally stable, lightweight mirrors for planned Earth-observing spaceborne instruments. These mirrors are required to retain precise concave or convex surface figures required for diffraction-limited optical performance, even in the presence of transient, asymmetric thermal loads, which include solar heating and radiational cooling. In the first phase of the program, preliminary analyses were performed to select one of three types of mirror structures: one made of SiC, one made of Be, and a hybrid comprising a lightweight composite-material substructure supporting a glass face sheet that would be a substrate for the required precise optical surface. The hybrid structure was selected for further development because it would offer a combination of high stiffness and low mass and because, relative to the Be and SiC structures, (1) the coefficients of thermal expansion of its constituent materials and the resulting wavefront error would be smaller, and (2) it could be fabricated at lower cost. A prototype hybrid structure with an aperture diameter of 0.3 m was fabricated. Planned efforts in the next phase of the program include optical polishing of the glass face sheet and testing.

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Ultrahigh-Vacuum Arc-Jet Source of Nitrogen for Epitaxy

Electron-excitation and translational energies can be selected. An arc-jet source of chemically active nitrogen atoms has been developed for use in molecular-beam epitaxy (MBE) to grow such III-V semiconductors as nitrides of gallium, aluminum, and indium. This apparatus utilizes a confined arc to thermally excite N2 and to dissociate N2 into N atoms. This apparatus is compatible with other, ultrahigh-vacuum MBE equipment commonly used in growing such materials.

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