NIST researchers are in the early stages of a massive undertaking to design and build a fleet of tiny ultra-sensitive thermometers. If they succeed, their system will be the first to make real-time measurements of temperature on the microscopic scale in an opaque 3D volume — which could include medical implants. The project is called Thermal Magnetic Imaging and Control (Thermal MagIC), and the researchers say it could revolutionize temperature measurements in many fields, including biology and medicine. 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, for example. 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 final product could make temperature measurements that are 10 times more precise than state-of-the-art techniques, acquired in one-tenth the time in a volume 10,000 times smaller. This equates to measurements accurate to within 25 millikelvin (thousandths of a kelvin) in as little as a tenth of a second, in a volume just a hundred microns (millionths of a meter) on a side.
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