3 Research Associate Positions at NASA! Atomic Layer Deposition for advanced UV Detectors used in Space Missions


Do you have a Ph.D. and are you interested in applying atomic layer deposition for advanced space instruments? Nasa is looking for a research associate in the area of advanced ALD technology development for detectors in UV space missions.

Major advances in technology are required to enable the next generation of UV instruments for discoveries beyond HST, GALEX, and Cassini. 

The UV instruments are installed on space telescopes and are used by astronomers and physicists to study a part of the cosmos they can't study from Earth. In the region where UV and visible light converge, stars, like the Sun, emit strong magnetic fields that can be studied indirectly by observing the UV light coming from that area. UV light emitted by charged atoms (ions) nearby is slightly altered in color (wavelength) by the fields. Then, the strength of the magnetic field can be determined by measuring how much certain wavelengths shift.

From Earth, where the atmosphere absorbs UV radiation, it is impossible to collect this kind of information. Instruments like the Solar Ultraviolet Magnetograph Investigation (SUMI) are specifically designed to take pictures of these magnetic fields from space.


ALD Technology Development for Detectors in UV Space Missions - Research Associate Position at NASA

Image: Messier 83, sometimes referred to as the Southern Pinwheel Galaxy, is a spiral galaxy that can be seen in this Hubble image. In 2008, scientists identified the birth of brand-new stars in Messier 83's spiral arms using UV photos gathered by the Galex satellite. This galaxy, which is 15 million light-years away from Earth, has had numerous supernova explosions and may contain a double nucleus at its center.


ALD Technology Development for Detectors in UV Space Missions - Research Associate Position at NASA

Hubble Telescope. Photo by NASA. Atomic Layer Deposition (ALD) is used to substantially increase the capability of the instruments and detectors, like the Hubble Telescope, that scientists use to make new discoveries.


Two elements with a high impact on UV instruments performance are high-efficiency detectors using improved optical coatings. For example, solid-state photon counting detectors developed in NASA's laboratory can dramatically increase the quantum efficiency QE (>x5) and significantly enhance both fabrication yield and reliability compared to more common flight-ready microchannel plate (MCP) sealed tubes.


ALD Technology Development for Detectors in UV Space Missions - Research Associate Position at NASA

Image: Photon-Counting Large Format Arrays. Four-side buttable CCD arrays in production for WaSP and ZTF at Palomar, used in UV instruments as GALEX, an orbiting ultraviolet space telescope launched on April 28, 2003.

Similar gains are possible by improving optical coatings. Nanoscale control and manipulation of materials and device surfaces and interfaces are required to overcome challenges associated with UV technology. Advances in nanotechnology and materials make it possible to overcome these challenges. Once advancements are achieved, proper sensors are deployed to space to capture images.  

Compare Sun Images - Visible Light and Ultraviolet

These two images of the Sun were taken at nearly the same time on February 3, 2002. The image on the left shows the Sun in visible light. Several sunspots dot the face of the Sun. The image on the right shows the Sun in ultraviolet (UV) light at a wavelength of 30.4 nanometers (304 Ångstroms). The Sun's lower atmosphere (chromosphere) shows up especially well in this UV wavelength. Bright areas in the UV image reveal hot, magnetically disturbed regions in the chromosphere. Notice how these bright areas in the UV picture correspond to the locations of sunspots in the visible light photo. Sunspots are regions of powerful magnetic disturbances on the Sun's surface (photosphere) which in turn generate hot, high energy disruptions in the Sun's atmosphere. Solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) often erupt from these active regions around and above sunspots. These images were captured by NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) satellite.

For example, NIST physicist Joseph Reader) helped NASA scientists successfully position a crucial UV sensor inside a space-borne instrument to observe a "hidden" layer of the Sun where violent space weather can originate (see image). 

Dark spots on the Sun release particles and electromagnetic fields into space. As these particles and fields pass through the Sun's "transition region," 5,000 kilometers above the surface, they can gather considerable steam, resulting in violent episodes of "sun storms" that can damage Earth-orbiting satellites and disrupt electronic communications.

The Role of ALD

Powerful new techniques such as Atomic Layer Deposition (ALD) can be used to form ultrathin,  uniform layers suitable for antireflection coatings to improve detector internal quantum efficiency (QE). Furthermore, ALD can be used for detector passivation technique as a noise reduction measure.

It was demonstrated that silicon detectors made with ALD can exhibit reliable and repeatable performance. Highly reflective coatings for mirrors and optical components also using ALD enable higher-throughput UV and UV-Optical instruments.

ALD Technology Development for Detectors in UV Space Missions - Research Associate Position at NASA

Image: This pictorial diagram shows the arc of NASA's detector development over the course of past, present, and future flight missions. More than two decades of development and deployment have proven the capabilities and expanded the scale of delta-doped silicon arrays. This technology is well poised to make a significant impact on the capabilities of future explorer-class and flagship missions.


About The Job

The job location is Pasadena, California. 

The successful candidate will develop the chemistry and physics necessary for ALD to improve detectors and optics. The candidate will interact with collaborators at JPL, Caltech, the University of Colorado, Columbia, and other institutions, will work in a team environment, and will contribute to the team’s expansion into new directions. Moreover, he or she will publish results in technical refereed journals and present results at technical conferences.

If you are interested in this job, please visit this link

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Further reading:

1. NASA - Crafting Detectors Atomic Layer by Atomic Layer has a High Impact on Ultraviolet Astrophysics Missions, 2020 :

2. Superconducting nanowire single-photon detectors fabricated from atomic-layer-deposited NbN; Risheng Cheng, Sihao Wang, and Hong X. Tanga, 2019:

3. Single Photon Counting UV Solar-Blind Detectors Using Silicon and III-Nitride Materials; Shouleh Nikzad, 2016, DOI:10.3390/s16060927;






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