Radiation in the 1GHz-10THz range has attracted growing attention in the last 20 years from both a basic science and an application points of view. On the one hand, several studies in modern science, such as Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), Axion-Like Particles (ALPs), arrangement of proteins and electron/hole/phonon dynamics, show distinctive signals in this frequency band. On the other hand, for industrial applications THz rays (T-rays) present an alternative to x-rays (which are ionizing) for security scanners, materials inspection, packaged food quality control, and biological imaging for medical purposes thanks to their ability to pass through non-polar materials, such as paper and plastic. Furthermore, many materials including explosives and drugs show specific spectroscopic features in the THz band.
In order to fulfil all the requirements posed by the above applications, a detection system should present both high sensitivity and broadband operating frequency. Nowadays technologies show specific performances and limitations arising from their operation principles. Room temperature detectors can reach sensitivities on the order of 10-15W/Hz1/2, which are not enough for most of the basic science applications, to find small amounts of illegal substances in packs, and to search hidden objects over person at normal safety distance (40m). Inversely, cryogenic sensors show sensitivities reaching 10-22W/Hz1/2, but operating in a limited frequency range.
T-CONVERSE proposes a new class of cryogenic radiation sensors characterised by operating broadband from 10GHz to 10THz, resolving power larger than 100, and unprecedented noise equivalent power of the order of 10-23W/Hz1/2. These novel detectors are based on the innovative concept of temperature-to-phase conversion (TPC): the drop superconducting phase (φ) across a superconductor/normal metal/superconductor (SNS) Josephson junction embedded in a superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID) can be tuned by locally changing the temperature of the other junction. In a TPC sensor, the latter can be due to the absorption of radiation by an antenna coupled to the detection junction. Finally, φ across the readout junction is measured by an integrated superconducting quantum interference transistor (SQUIPT).
Thanks to their unparalleled performances, the TPC detectors could be the cornerstone of novel technologies for THz imaging and spectroscopy. In particular, they could be extensively used for homeland, border and citizen security applications. THz sensors can detect in real-time weapons, illegal goods, drugs or explosives in packs (immediate event evaluation for the first response); bringing the sensitivity, the quality and the level of checks beyond any currently existing system devoted to security.
Furthermore, the TPC sensors could be employed for food security and citizen health in quality controls of food packaging/adulteration, suspect pharmaceutical freight and fraud inspections.