The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has demonstrated a novel chip-scale instrument made of carbon nanotubes that may simplify absolute measurements of laser power, especially the light signals transmitted by optical fibers in telecommunications networks.
The prototype device, a miniature version of an instrument called a cryogenic radiometer, is a silicon chip topped with circular mats of carbon nanotubes standing on end.* The mini-radiometer builds on NIST's previous work using nanotubes, the world's darkest known substance, to make an ultraefficient, highly accurate optical power detector,** and advances NIST's ability to measure laser power delivered through fiber for calibration customers.***
"This is our play for leadership in laser power measurements," project leader John Lehman says. "This is arguably the coolest thing we've done with carbon nanotubes. They're not just black, but they also have the temperature properties needed to make components like electrical heaters truly multifunctional."
NIST and other national metrology institutes around the world measure laser power by tracing it to fundamental electrical units. Radiometers absorb energy from light and convert it to heat. Then the electrical power needed to cause the same temperature increase is measured. NIST researchers found that the mini-radiometer accurately measures both laser power (brought to it by an optical fiber) and the equivalent electrical power within the limitations of the imperfect experimental setup. The tests were performed at a temperature of 3.9 K, using light at the telecom wavelength of 1550 nanometers.
The tiny circular forests of tall, thin nanotubes called VANTAs ("vertically aligned nanotube arrays") have several desirable properties. Most importantly, they uniformly absorb light over a broad range of wavelengths and their electrical resistance depends on temperature. The versatile nanotubes perform three dif
|Contact: Laura Ost|
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)