KIDSpec technology development: Opening a new window on the Universe, one photon at a time.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford


Energy-resolving detectors are a step towards the 'ultimate detector' for astronomy and many other applications besides. Kinetic Inductance detectors (KIDs) are a transformational technology based on superconducting resonators that have opened the way for large arrays of zero-noise, energy sensitive (3-D) detectors in the important optical and near-IR (UVOIR) regime. Our goal is to bring together the components necessary to comprise the first european UVOIR KID spectrograph. Whilst these have been demonstrated at the component level, we will use the expertise and experience in our team to build a complete system, including the detector, cryogenics and read-out electronics. We will use this system to develop the conceptual design of a powerful medium spectral resolution, broad band (0.3 - 2.5 micrometers) spectrograph. This Kinetic Inductance Detector Spectrograph (KIDSpec) would be a uniquely powerful instrument more than an order of magnitude more sensitive than existing equivalent instrumentation using semiconductor detectors.
At the heart of the instrument is the ability of the KIDs to discern the order from a diffraction grating. It is this ability that we will demonstrate for the first time with this project. At the end of the project, we will use this technology development to push forwards to the first KIDSpec instrument at a major astronomical observatory. Such an instrument is perfectly suited to the E-ELT, as the zero read-noise, photon-counting operation maximises the pay-off from the enormous collecting area of this next generation telescope.
The moderate investment requested in this proposal will enable us to perform a unique experiment, but equally importantly it will enable us to build the knowledge and experience to put UK researchers at the heart of this truly revolutionary field. Kinetic Inductance Detector arrays have the capacity to revolutionise astronomy in the same manner as the move from photographic plates to digital detectors did 30 years ago and this proposal will place us at the forefront of this nascent field.

Planned Impact

The KIDs revolution: The most sensitive receivers at wavelengths in the millimetre range are based on superconducting devices. Most modern telescopes at millimetre and sub millimetre wavelengths employ receivers that use superconducting detectors. This includes both telescopes that employ coherent detection such as ALMA for spectral information and total power detectors (bolometers) such as BICEP for investigation of the Cosmic Microwave Background polarisation. So far, instruments using bolometers have been employing Transition Edge Sensors (TES) and achieving impressive sensitivities. It is well known however that these devices require complex SQUID readout, need to be fabricated on a fragile membrane, have a slow response and suffer from very low saturation power.
This is why in the last few years considerable research effort has been invested in the development of Kinetics Inductance detectors that employ relatively simple superconducting devices and exhibit natural frequency domain multiplexing using superconducting resonant circuits at microwave frequencies (hence the name MKID).

UK context and leadership: The UK now has two institutions that are extensively active in the field of MKID devices, namely Cardiff and Cambridge, with Cambridge being involved in the fabrication of devices for international projects. In this proposal we are proposing to build a proof-of-concept KID instrument for the first time in the UK in order to establish the capability of leading the construction of KIDS instruments for telescopes operating at infrared and optical wavelengths. At the moment, such capabilities only exist in the USA and we are aiming that this project will trigger this activity in Europe and in particular in the UK. European institutions in Cambridge, Chalmers and SRON have the best device fabrication facilities in the world. and other The Optical Instrumentation group at Oxford has a world class record in developing novel technology for optical telescopes and indeed leading the construction of complete instruments (HARMONI, KMOS, FMOS, WEAVE).

Scientific impact: The proposed instrument will act as a conduit for exploring new KID technology that will lead to the construction of instruments to be installed on major telescope facilities such as the E-ELT, ESO's NTT, VLT and the South African SALT telescope. It will enable the exploration of exciting science that could not possibly be achieved with conventional receivers based on solid state detectors. This is because it provides a wide band spectrograph with photon counting capability that will enable the deepest spectroscopic observations ever made. In addition our instrument will incorporate an Echelle grating to disperse the light, providing high spectral resolving power in a compact format.
The deep multicolour observations with KIDs instruments will help explore the evolution of the Universe, while the zero-readout noise, low resolution spectra from UVOIR MKIDs will enable breakthroughs in the area of exoplanets. In studying Dark Matter and Dark Energy, an MKID based multi-object spectrograph is capable of taking spectra of the entire LSST catalog. By obtaining the spectroscopic redshift of two billion objects we would be able to further constrain the dark energy parameters, equivalent to performing an entire survey in the northern hemisphere.

Industrial return:
We already have strong links with Oxford Instruments, suppliers of technologies such as low sub-kelvin dilution refrigerators and ADRs designed for this purpose. Building the MKID instrument will bring together considerable infrastructure and expertise that already exist in Oxford Astrophysics. The Co-Is are world experts in superconducting technology, optical and radio astronomy. Their work will undoubtedly feed into other UK research institutions and generate scientific and industrial collaborations, in the areas of superconducting devices, read-out electronics, optics, cryogenics and big data


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Eyken J (2015) THE ARCONS PIPELINE: DATA REDUCTION FOR MKID ARRAYS in The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series

Description John Fell Fund
Amount £40,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Oxford 
Department John Fell Fund
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2015 
End 10/2016
Description MSSL ADR 
Organisation University College London
Department Department of Space and Climate Physics (MSSL)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We are developing a ADR for use with the MKID program
Collaborator Contribution MSSL have loaned us an ADR insert for the duration of the project.
Impact We have secured additional funding to develop a cryogen-free ADR for use with this project
Start Year 2013
Description UCSB Devices 
Organisation University of California, Santa Barbara
Department Department of Physics
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We are exploring novel uses of devices fabricated by our collaborators at UCSB
Collaborator Contribution UCSB have been developing the MKID devices for ground-based astronomy
Impact None yet
Start Year 2015