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Bringing Exoplanets into View

• Physics 15, s87

An up to date photon detector has a less complicated design and better resolving energy than comparable gadgets, opening the best way for its use in detecting exoplanets.


For the previous six years, superconducting photon detectors have captivated Nicholas Zobrist, a physicist on the University of California, Santa Barbara. These detectors, which choose up photons by way of the disturbances they create in a superconductor’s properties, have purposes in fields starting from biology to cosmology to planet looking. But to be helpful for the latter goal, Zobrist says the gadgets want an improve. Now, he and his colleagues have demonstrated a superconducting detector that has half the vitality decision of earlier gadgets [1]. Zobrist says that their design is easy to make and must be appropriate with beforehand developed know-how.

The sort of machine created by Zobrist and his colleagues is named a microwave kinetic inductance detector (MKID). Typically, MKIDs include a superconducting circuit that sits on some substrate. When a photon hits the circuit, it could create phonons. These phonons can journey into the substrate, taking vitality with them, which results in uncertainty within the measurements of the incoming photons.

The workforce discovered that they may totally block the transmission of high-energy phonons by inserting a phonon-blocking layer between the superconducting circuit and the substrate. This change translated to a doubling of the spectral resolving energy, or a halving of the uncertainty of the photon vitality measurements.

While the design change could appear apparent in hindsight, Zobrist notes that the significance of those phonons in limiting detector decision has solely not too long ago been acknowledged. The simplicity of the change will make it simpler to implement in already constructed detectors. “It is not very often that performance enhancement of this magnitude happens,” he says. “It has been very gratifying to see our hard work pay off.”

–Katherine Wright

Katherine Wright is the Deputy Editor of Physics Magazine.


  1. N. Zobrist et al., “Membraneless phonon trapping and resolution enhancement in optical microwave kinetic inductance detectors,” Phys. Rev. Lett. 129, 017701 (2022).

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