Many life-relevant interaction energies are in IR range, and it is reasonable to believe that some biochemical reactions inside cells can results in emission of IR photons. Cells can use this emission for non-chemical and non-electrical signaling. Detecting weak infrared radiation from live cells is complicated because of strong thermal radiation background and absorption of radiation by tissues. A microfluidic device with live cells inside a vacuum cryogenic environment should suppress this background, and thereby permit observation of live cell auto-luminescence or signaling in the IR regime. One can make IR-transparent windows not emitting in this range, so only the cell and a small amount of liquid around it will emit infrared radiation. Currently mid-IR spectroscopy of single cells requires the use of a synchrotron source to measure absorption or reflection spectra. Decreasing of thermal radiation background will allow absorption and reflection spectroscopy of cells without using synchrotron light. Moreover, cell auto-luminescence can be directly measured. The complete absence of thermal background radiation for cryogenically cooled samples allows the use IR photon-sensitive detectors and obtaining single molecule sensitivity in IR photo-luminescence measurements. Due to low photon energies, photo-luminescence measurements will be non-distractive for pressures samples. The technique described here is based upon US patent 9366574.
We present an overview of the recent progress made in the development of a far-IR array of ultrasensitive hot-electron
nanobolometers (nano-HEB) made from thin titanium (Ti) films. We studied electrical noise, signal and noise
bandwidth, single-photon detection, optical noise equivalent power (NEP), and a microwave SQUID (MSQUID) based
frequency domain multiplexing (FDM) scheme. The obtained results demonstrate the very low electrical NEP down to
1.5×10-20 W/Hz1/2 at 50 mK determined by the dominating phonon noise. The NEP increases with temperature as ~ T3
reaching ~ 10-17 W/Hz1/2 at the device critical temperature TC = 330-360 mK. Optical NEP = 8.6×10-18 W/Hz1/2 at 357
mK and 1.4×10-18 W/Hz1/2 at 100 mK respectively, agree with thermal and electrical data. The optical coupling
efficiency provided by a planar antenna was greater than 50%. Single 8-μm photons have been detected for the first time
using a nano-HEB operating at 50-200 mK thus demonstrating a potential of these detectors for future photon-counting
applications in mid-IR and far-IR. In order to accommodate the relatively high detector speed (~ μs at 300 mK, ~ 100 μs
at 100 mK), an MSQUID based FDM multiplexed readout with GHz carrier frequencies has been built. Both the readout
noise ~ 2 pA/Hz1/2 and the bandwidth > 150 kHz are suitable for nano-HEB detectors.
We are presenting the current progress on the titanium (Ti)
hot-electron transition-edge devices. The ultimate goal of this work is to develop a submillimeter Hot-Electron Direct Detector (HEDD) with the noise equivalent power NEP = 10-18-10-20 W/Hz1/2 for the moderate resolution spectroscopy and Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) studies on future space telescope (e.g., SPICA, SAFIR, SPECS, CMBPol) with cryogenically cooled (~ 4-5 K) mirrors. Recentlyi, we have achieved the extremely low thermal conductance (~ 20 fW/K at 300 mK and ~ 0.1 fW/K at 40 mK) due to the electron-phonon decoupling in Ti nanodevices with niobium (Nb) Andreev contacts. This thermal conductance translates into the "phonon-noise" NEP ≈ 3×10-21 W/Hz1/2 at 40 mK and NEP ≈ 3×10-19 W/Hz1/2 at 300 mK. These record data indicate the great potential of the hot-electron detector for meeting many application needs. Beside the extremely low phonon-noise NEP, the nanobolometers have a very low electron heat capacitance that makes them promising as
detectors of single THz photonsii. As the next step towards the practical demonstration of the HEDD, we fabricated and
tested somewhat larger than in Ref.1 devices (~ 6 μm × 0.35 μm × 40 nm) whose critical temperature is well reproduced in the range 300-350 mK. The output electrical noise measured in these devices with a low-noise dc SQUID is dominated by the thermal energy fluctuations (ETF) aka "phonon noise". This indicates the high electrothermal loop gain that effectively suppresses the contributions of the Johnson noise and the amplifier (SQUID) noise. The electrical NEP = 6.7×10-18 W/Hz1/2 derived from these measurements is in good agreement with the predictions based on the thermal conductance data. The very low NEP and the high speed (~ μs) are a unique combination not found in other detectors.
We are developing a hot-electron superconducting transition-edge sensor (TES) that is capable of counting THz photons
and operates at T = 0.3K. The main driver for this work is moderate resolution spectroscopy (R ~ 1000) on the future
space telescopes with cryogenically cooled (~ 4 K) mirrors. The detectors for these telescopes must be background-limited
with a noise equivalent power (NEP) ~ 10-19-10-20 W/Hz1/2 over the range ν=0.3-10 THz. Above about 1 THz,
the background photon arrival rate is expected to be ~ 10-100 s-1, and photon counting detectors may be preferable to an
integrating type. We fabricated superconducting Ti nanosensors with a volume of ~ 3×10-3 μm3 on planar Si substrate
and have measured the thermal conductance G to the thermal bath. A very low G=4×10-14 W/K, measured at 0.3 K, is
due to the weak electron-phonon coupling in the material and the thermal isolation provided by superconducting Nb
contacts. This low G corresponds to NEP(0.3K) = 3×10-19 W/Hz1/2. This Hot-Electron Direct Detector (HEDD) is
expected to have a sufficient energy resolution for detecting individual photons with ν > 0.3 THz at 0.3 K. With the
sensor time constant of a few microseconds, the dynamic range is ~ 50 dB.