Magazine article Science News

Taking Temperatures at the Nanoscale: Aluminum, Other Materials Can Become Self-Thermometers

Magazine article Science News

Taking Temperatures at the Nanoscale: Aluminum, Other Materials Can Become Self-Thermometers

Article excerpt

To take the temperature of tiny things, scrap the thermometer. Aluminum and other materials can serve as their own thermometers, enabling temperature readings of objects nanometers in size, researchers report in the Feb. 6 Science.

The scientists probed temperature at various points on a tiny aluminum wire by measuring electrons that were fired through the wire. The electrons energies exposed subtle changes in the aluminums density, which corresponds to the temperature. If the technique passes further scrutiny--and not everyone believes it will--it could be used to measure the temperature of individual transistors.

Temperature, which is related to the energy distribution of particles in a substance, is typically deduced indirectly by measuring another property. In the macroscopic world, thats easy; A bulb thermometer, for example, infers temperature from the expansion and contraction of a liquid as it is heated or cooled. But thermometers present complications at small scales because they transfer heat to or from the object being measured.

Physicist Matthew Mecklenburg of the University of Southern California and colleagues knew that heat-driven expansion of a material should also cause the materials electrons to spread out. The scientists set out to quantify the change in density and electron spacing in aluminum and use it to determine temperature.

The team fired a beam of electrons at an 80-nanometer-thick aluminum wire placed atop a roughly 10-nanometerthick silicon nitride plate. …

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