Newswise — X-ray spectroscopy is akin to watching a colorful fireworks display on the 4th of July. The different colors of fireworks are caused by the burning of different elements, which give off characteristic light. X-ray spectroscopy is a technique that uses X-ray light to probe the physical and chemical structure of matter at nanometer and atomic length scales.

Scientists use spectroscopy at the bright X-ray light source facilities that the DOE operates (e.g., the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory) to study systems in condensed matter physics, biology, catalysis, environmental sciences, and geosciences. For example, high-resolution measurements of the K shell emission lines can give precise information about the molecular orbitals and population of the electronic bands. These bands are important in bonding, magnetism, and electronic properties of the transition metals and other heavy elements.

This Early Career Award made it possible to develop a new class of quantum detectors which will greatly expand the accessibility of X-ray spectroscopy and enable new science.

These detectors measure the electrical resistance of superconducting materials close to their transition temperature. This is a regime in which small changes in temperature result in large changes in resistance. The energy of X-ray light absorbed is thus converted to heat. The resulting change in resistance is proportional to the X-ray energy. The quantum nature of the detector enables this detection method to provide highly precise measurements of X-ray energy.


Antonino Miceli is the group leader of the Detectors Group in the X-ray Science Division of the Advanced Photon Source at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, a senior fellow at the Northwestern Argonne Institute of Science and Engineering, and a senior scientist at the University of Chicago Consortium for Advanced Science and Engineering.


The Early Career Award program provides financial support that is foundational to young scientists, freeing them to focus on executing their research goals. The development of outstanding scientists early in their careers is of paramount importance to the Department of Energy Office of Science. By investing in the next generation of researchers, the Office of Science champions lifelong careers in discovery science. 

For more information, please go to the Early Career Research Program.


High Resolution Spectroscopic X‐ray Detectors using Superconducting Sensors  

The objective of this project is to develop spectroscopic X‐ray detectors with high energy resolution using superconducting sensors that are optimized for high‐count rate experiments. The research will focus on developing X‐ray detectors using a promising new technology that measures the energy of the incoming photons and the consequent change in the properties of superconducting sensors. The current state‐of‐art spectroscopic X‐ray detectors are semiconductor devices (e.g., silicon drift diodes) whose energy resolution is approaching their theoretical limit. The new detectors, called Microwave Kinetic Inductance Detectors (MKIDs), allow for the increased energy resolution necessary for high‐intensity X‐ray experiments including X‐ray micro/nano‐probes and X‐ray absorption spectroscopy for biology and geophysical applications. By multiplexing the readout of arrays of MKIDs one can build detectors capable of high count rates. The research has the potential to impact the scientific output in several areas of X‐ray spectroscopy.


T. Cecil, A. Miceli, O. Quaranta, C. Liu, D. Rosenmann, S. McHugh, and B. Mazin, “Tungsten silicide films for microwave kinetic inductance detectors.” Appl. Phys. Lett. 101, 032601 (2012). [DOI: 10.1063/1.4737408]

O. Quaranta, T.W. Cecil, L. Gades, B. Mazin, and A. Miceli, “X-ray photon detection using superconducting resonators in thermal quasi-equilibrium.” Superconductor Science and Technology 26, 105021 (2013). [DOI: 10.1088/0953-2048/26/10/105021]

Y. Daikang, R. Divan, L.M. Gades, P. Kenesei, T.J. Madden, A. Miceli, J.-S. Park, U.M. Patel, O. Quaranta, H. Sharma, D.A. Bennett, W.B. Doriese, J.W. Fowler, J.D. Gard, J.P. Hays-Wehle, K.M. Morgan, D.R. Schmidt, D.S. Swetz, and J.N. Ullom, “Eliminating the non-Gaussian spectral response of X-ray absorbers for transition-edge sensors.” Appl. Phys. Lett. 111, 192602 (2017). [DOI: 10.1063/1.5001198]



Additional profiles of the 2010 Early Career Award winners can be found at https://www.energy.gov/science/listings/early-career-program.   

The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit https://www.energy.gov/science.