MicroSpec: Revolutionary Instrument on a Chip

Narration: Rob Garner


[music] Scientists already know what the universe looked like when it was a baby, and they know what it looks like today. What they don't know is how it looked in its adolescence. But scientists may finally get a glimpse at this unseen stage in the development of the universe from a revolutionary new technology being developed at NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center. An instrument on a chip. This new, potentially game-changing instrument, called MicroSpec, is a far-infrared spectrometer that will be 10,000 times more sensitive and infinitely smaller than it's predecessor. Normally the size of an office desk, this spectrometer can fit in the palm of your hand. Scientists use spectrometers to measure properties of light to identify the composition and the physical properties of the object being observed. And now we are able to integrate both the optics, which separates out the colors, which we're trying to measure, we are able to integrate them to very sensitive detectors all on a silicon wafer. That's the big innovation here. The MicroSpec instrument will be able to gather data from objects so distant from Earth that they no longer can be seen in the visible light spectrum. By building an instrument like MicroSpec and studying this era, where galaxies were beginning to form, gives us a very clear picture of how the universe developed into the kind of place that can support life like us. But in order to see these things clearly, the spectrometer must be cooled to temperatures close to absolute zero so heat from the instrument will not interfere with the incoming, faint infrared signal. We can get an observation in 10 seconds with this cold telescope that would take a year with an ambient telescope like the Hubble. So such a facility like that is really a revolutionary capability.