National Research Council Canada-NRC

National Research Council Canada-NRC

April 20, 2007 14:04 ET

NRC Scientists Produce World's Most Sensitive Radio Detectors to Probe the Universe

VICTORIA, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(CCNMatthews - April 20, 2007) - The National Research Council of Canada has designed and built the most sensitive and precise radio detector ever built for millimeter-wavelength operation. Called "Band 3" millimeter-wavelength radio receivers, these devices promise to revolutionize studies of the cold Universe, notably about the birth of stars and planets.

Created at the National Research Council Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics (NRC-HIA), the Band 3 receiver systems will be installed on the world's largest and most sophisticated radio telescope the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, known as ALMA being built in the Chilean Andes(i). A receiver will be installed on each ALMA antenna for research purposes but will also ensure that atmospheric disturbances are corrected across the entire ALMA array. ALMA is the highest priority for a new ground-based astronomical facility in the Long Range Plan for Canadian astrophysics. The first scientific results should be available in about three years. Researchers expect spectacular images of young stars and galaxies to be made using the Band 3 receivers.

Gregory Fahlman, Director General of NRC-HIA, comments: "The international ALMA community has placed a great deal of faith in NRC's ability to deliver stable, reliable receivers. I am very proud that we have designed and built the highly precise electronic and mechanical components necessary for reliable operation under extreme conditions."

Band 3 operates at a temperature of -269 degrees celcius (the temperature of the internal system necessary to suppress noise) and can withstand the harsh external environment on the Andes in Chile. Fred Lo, Director of the US National Radio Astronomy Observatory, stated "Band 3 will be a leading workhorse for producing the exciting scientific discoveries we expect from ALMA."

The Band 3 receiver can also be used in other applications. The amplifier design for Band 3 has been licensed to Nanowave Technologies of Ontario. Band 3 amplifiers have already been sold to the French atomic energy agency for use in advanced materials research.

"In addition to creating what we believe is a unique Canadian industrial capability to serve the needs of the worldwide Radio astronomy and Physics communities, the transferred technology provides Nanowave with the additional tools to access the much larger commercial and defense radar and satellite communications markets", comments Justin Miller, President of Nanowave Technologies.

"We're very excited about the outstanding performance of the Band 3 receiver. It's the most sensitive receiver ever produced for this wavelength range, and clearly marks NRC as a leader on the technological frontier," said Adrian Russell, ALMA's North American Project Manager. "We deeply appreciate the dedicated efforts of the Canadian team that produced this receiver," Russell added.

Recognized globally for research and innovation, Canada's National Research Council is a leader in the development of an innovative, knowledge-based economy for Canada through science and technology.

(i) ALMA is a unified collection of more than fifty high-precision radio dishes, 5 kilometers above sea level on the Chajnantor plain, which will be used by a an international consortium for radio astronomy.

For detailed information, pictures and interviews, please visit NRC HIA's backgrounder web site at

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