New Superconducting Thermometer Measures Temperatures Below 1 Kelvin

More than 1,200 of the thermometers could fit on a 3-inch silicon wafer.
Loukia Papadopoulos

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have invented a miniature thermometer that can measure temperatures below 1 kelvin (minus 272.15 C or minus 457.87 F), down to 50 millikelvins (mK) and potentially 5 mK

The new mini-thermometer can be attached in all kinds of places to provide quick and accurate temperature measurements where needed most.

The research is published in the journal Applied Physics Letters.


The researchers already used it to record the heating of a superconducting microwave amplifier and say it has promising applications such as monitoring the temperature of processor chips in superconductor-based quantum computers.

“This was a fun idea that quickly grew into something very helpful,” group leader Joel Ullom said in a statement.

Smaller and faster than conventional cryogenic thermometers

“The thermometer allows researchers to measure the temperature of a wide range of components in their test packages at very little cost and without introducing a large number of additional electrical connections. This has the potential to benefit researchers working in quantum computing or using low-temperature sensors in a wide range of fields.”

The invention came about as a spinoff of NIST’s custom superconducting sensors for telescope cameras. Now, it is smaller and faster than conventional cryogenic thermometers for chip-scale devices, making it more convenient as well.

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"We demonstrate the practical use of these TLS thermometers to investigate static and transient chip heating in a kinetic inductance traveling-wave parametric amplifier operated with a strong pump tone. TLS thermometry may find broad application in cryogenic microwave devices such as superconducting qubits and detectors," wrote the researchers in their study.

Whereas most conventional resistive thermometers take about one-tenth of a second to measure temperature, the NIST thermometer does so in about 5 milliseconds (thousandths of a second). It's also extremely easy to fabricate, meaning it can be mass-produced at scale.

Its inventors estimate that more than 1,200 of the thermometers could fit on a 3-inch (approximately 75-millimeter) silicon wafer.

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