ARCHIVED - Astrophysics goes to market

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January 08, 2008— Ottawa, Ontario

"The technology licensed from NRC could open up new markets for commercial and defence radar and satellite communications."

Dr. Justin Miller, President, Nanowave Technologies

A radio receiver designed to capture the faintest whispers from the cosmos is finding earthly application in the hands of a Canadian company. Nanowave Technologies of Etobicoke, Ontario has licensed a component of the Band 3 receivers developed by NRC for the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) — a system of 66 radio dishes being built in the high altitude desert of northern Chile.

The component of interest to Nanowave is a cryogenic amplifier that boosts the weak radio signals from distant stars and galaxies without adding unwanted noise. "Apart from radio astronomy, this amplifier could have great value for telecommunication systems, solid state physics research, materials research and low temperature physics research," says Keith Yeung of the NRC Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics in Victoria.

NRC leads Canada's participation in the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) — an international collaboration between North America, Europe and Japan to build the world's most sensitive telescope array. Image courtesy of ESO/ALMA
NRC leads Canada's participation in the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) — an international collaboration between North America, Europe and Japan to build the world's most sensitive telescope array. Image courtesy of ESO/ALMA

Nanowave will manufacture the 300 amplifiers needed for ALMA, and will also market the technology globally to universities, research labs and semiconductor companies. "We believe that the technology licensed from NRC could open up new markets for commercial and defence radar and satellite communications," says Dr. Justin Miller, President of Nanowave Technologies. The French Atomic Energy Commission has already purchased two amplifiers for its advanced nanomaterials research, as has the California-based Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy (CARMA).

NRC's amplifier is a critical component of the Band 3 receiver that Canada is contributing to the international ALMA project — a partnership between North America, Europe and East Asia. With its sensitive receivers, high resolution and location at 5,000 metres above sea level, ALMA will be at least 10 times more powerful than similar telescopes. Astronomers believe that ALMA will reveal new truths about the birth of stars and planets, the formation of galaxies, and the history of the universe.

Image courtesy of ESO/ALMA
Image courtesy of ESO/ALMA

Although Band 3 is one of 10 frequency bands required for ALMA, it is a critical one for operation of the telescope. "All of the receiver bands will require data from Band 3 to calibrate their observations," says Dr. Lewis Knee, who has taken leave from his duties as the Canadian project manager for ALMA in order to work in the telescope construction team in Chile. "The fact that NRC is building the Band 3 receivers represents a real vote of confidence from our partners at the National Science Foundation in the U.S."

NRC's participation will guarantee that Canadian astronomers can use ALMA to study the birth of planets, stars, galaxies — even the formation of organic molecules in space. "Ultimately, ALMA will help us to understand how planets formed around our Sun, and how common planets are in the universe," says Dr. Knee. "That knowledge has many implications for the study of life beyond our solar system."

NRC also manages Canada's involvement in international observatories in Hawaii and Chile, including the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope, the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, and the Gemini North and South telescopes. Through its participation, NRC ensures that the more than 450 astronomers in universities and research organizations across Canada can take full advantage of these facilities.

Enquiries: Media relations
National Research Council of Canada
613-991-1431
media@nrc-cnrc.gc.ca

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