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Nano-thermometers a potential game changer

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the US has launched a new project to design and build a fleet of tiny ultra-sensitive thermometers.

The project is called Thermal Magnetic Imaging and Control (Thermal MagIC), and if it succeeds it will be the first system to make real-time measurements of temperature on the microscopic scale in an opaque 3D volume.

Researchers hope it will revolutionise temperature tracking across a variety fields – including refrigeration, biology, medicine, chemical synthesis, the automotive industry and plastic production.

It is an important area of study because most thermometers can only measure relatively big areas – on a macroscopic as opposed to microscopic level. Conventional thermometers are also intrusive and require bulky wires to connect to a readout system.

NIST physicist, Cindi Dennis, hopes Thermal MagIC will allow scientists to get around these limitations.

For example, engineers could use Thermal MagIC to study how heat transfer occurs within different coolants on the micro-scale – which could aid their quest to find cheaper, less energy-intensive refrigeration systems.

According to the NIST media release, “Thermal MagIC will work by using nanometer-sized objects whose magnetic signals change with temperature.

“The objects would be incorporated into the liquids or solids being studied — the melted plastic that might be used as part of an artificial joint replacement, or the liquid coolant being recirculated through a refrigerator. A remote sensing system would then pick up these magnetic signals, meaning the system being studied would be free from wires or other bulky external objects.”

The hope is that the final product will be able to take temperature measurements that are 10 times more precise than current techniques.

The NIST team is working in customised laboratory spaces on the project, and the first major phase of the experiment is underway.

For more detailed information about the project, please visit the NIST website.

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