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New Superconducting Thermometer Measures Temperatures Below 1 Kelvin

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

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.

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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.

"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.

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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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