SQUIDs are sensitive enough to measure fields as low as 5 a T (5×10−18 T) with a few days of averaged measurements. Their noise levels are as low as 3 fT·Hz−½. For comparison, a typical refrigerator magnet produces 0.01 tesla (10−2 T), and some processes in animals produce very small magnetic fields between 10−9 T and 10−6 T. Recently invented SERF atomic magnetometers are potentially more sensitive and do not require cryogenic refrigeration but are orders of magnitude larger in size (~1 cm3) and must be operated in a near-zero magnetic field.
History and design
There are two main types of SQUID: direct current (DC) and radio frequency (RF). RF SQUIDs can work with only one Josephson junction (superconducting tunnel junction), which might make them cheaper to produce, but are less sensitive.
- , whereis the self inductance of the superconducting ring
The traditional superconducting materials for SQUIDs are pure niobium or a lead alloy with 10% gold or indium, as pure lead is unstable when its temperature is repeatedly changed. To maintain superconductivity, the entire device needs to operate within a few degrees of absolute zero, cooled with liquid helium.
High-temperature SQUID sensors are more recent; they are made of high-temperature superconductors, particularly YBCO, and are cooled by liquid nitrogen which is cheaper and more easily handled than liquid helium. They are less sensitive than conventional low temperature SQUIDs but good enough for many applications.
The extreme sensitivity of SQUIDs makes them ideal for studies in biology. Magnetoencephalography (MEG), for example, uses measurements from an array of SQUIDs to make inferences about neural activity inside brains. Because SQUIDs can operate at acquisition rates much higher than the highest temporal frequency of interest in the signals emitted by the brain (kHz), MEG achieves good temporal resolution. Another area where SQUIDs are used is magnetogastrography, which is concerned with recording the weak magnetic fields of the stomach. A novel application of SQUIDs is the magnetic marker monitoring method, which is used to trace the path of orally applied drugs. In the clinical environment SQUIDs are used in cardiology for magnetic field imaging (MFI), which detects the magnetic field of the heart for diagnosis and risk stratification.
Probably the most common commercial use of SQUIDs is in magnetic property measurement systems (MPMS). These are turn-key systems, made by several manufacturers, that measure the magnetic properties of a material sample. This is typically done over a temperature range from that of 300 mK to roughly 400 K. With the decreasing size of SQUID sensors since the last decade, such sensor can equip the tip of an AFM probe. Such device allows simultaneous measurement of roughness of the surface of a sample and the local magnetic flux.
For example, SQUIDs are being used as detectors to perform magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). While high-field MRI uses precession fields of one to several teslas, SQUID-detected MRI uses measurement fields that lie in the microtesla range. In a conventional MRI system, the signal scales as the square of the measurement frequency (and hence precession field): one power of frequency comes from the thermal polarization of the spins at ambient temperature, while the second power of field comes from the fact that the induced voltage in the pickup coil is proportional to the frequency of the precessing magnetization. In the case of untuned SQUID detection of prepolarized spins, however, the NMR signal strength is independent of precession field, allowing MRI signal detection in extremely weak fields, on the order of Earth's magnetic field. SQUID-detected MRI has advantages over high-field MRI systems, such as the low cost required to build such a system, and its compactness. The principle has been demonstrated by imaging human extremities, and its future application may include tumor screening.
Another application is the scanning SQUID microscope, which uses a SQUID immersed in liquid helium as the probe. The use of SQUIDs in oil prospecting, mineral exploration, earthquake prediction and geothermal energy surveying is becoming more widespread as superconductor technology develops; they are also used as precision movement sensors in a variety of scientific applications, such as the detection of gravitational waves. A SQUID is the sensor in each of the four gyroscopes employed on Gravity Probe B in order to test the limits of the theory of general relativity.
Cold dark matter
Advanced SQUIDS called near quantum-limited SQUID amplifiers, form the basis of the Axion Dark Matter Experiment (ADMX) at the University of Washington. Axions are a prime candidate for cold dark matter.
A potential military application exists for use in anti-submarine warfare as a magnetic anomaly detector (MAD) fitted to maritime patrol aircraft.
SQUIDs are used in superparamagnetic relaxometry (SPMR), a technology that utilizes the high magnetic field sensitivity of SQUID sensors and the superparamagnetic properties of magnetite nanoparticles. These nanoparticles are paramagnetic; they have no magnetic moment until exposed to an external field where they become ferromagnetic. After removal of the magnetizing field, the nanoparticles decay from a ferromagnetic state to a paramagnetic state, with a time constant that depends upon the particle size and whether they are bound to an external surface. Measurement of the decaying magnetic field by SQUID sensors is used to detect and localize the nanoparticles. Applications for SPMR may include cancer detection.
Macroscopic quantum phenomena