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  • NASA Awards Epir Contract
Apr 2008
SARASOTA, Fla., April 14, 2008 -- A contract awarded to Epir Technologies Inc. will help NASA optmize x-ray absorbers for silicon-based calorimeter spectrometers.

The resulting x-ray sensors will have significantly higher spectral-resolution, "which will be used to provide insight into our hot and dynamic universe," NASA said in a statement issued by Sunovia.
Epir is a Bollingbrook, Ill., maker of optoelectronic materials and sensors -- such as infrared (IR) detectors, biosensors and solar cells -- for defense and other industries.

Under the Phase II SBIR contract, Epir will produce prototypes of the calorimeters, which are used to measure the wavelength of incoming x-ray photons. Semimetallic mercury telluride has been proven as an excellent absorber material due to its low heat capacity; however, the company said its research team has demonstrated "a breakthrough that proves MBE (molecular beam epitaxy) grown mercury-cadmium-telluride (MCT) combines an excellent conductivity with an even lower heat capacity and hence allows superior energy resolution."

Epir and Sunovia Inc., a Sarasota, Fla.-based IR sensor and imaging company the owns an interest in Epir, recently announced a partnership to commercialize solar, infrared and x-ray technologies for the renewable energy, night vision, medical and scientific markets. They said the NASA award will advance their strategy to commercialize synergistic cadmium-telluride-based technologies and manufacturing processes.

Sunovia is the exclusive marketer of technology and IP for Epir products. Epir and the Microphysics Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Chicago, both led by Epir's presdient, Siva Sivananthan, are performing research on MCT-on-silicon substrates for IR detection and imaging.

"The rich variety of x-ray emitters found outside of the solar system has resulted in the rapid development of detection devices since the inception of x-ray astronomy over 50 years ago," Sunovia said in a statement. "Nearly all observable objects in the night sky either emit x-radiation naturally or can be observed through x-ray absorption. Arguably, x-ray astronomy has yielded the most important astronomical discoveries of the last generation."

NASA's next generation of x-ray observation missions will require x-ray calorimeters with energy resolution better than existing ones.

"The Phase II contract for improved x-ray calorimeters pinpoints an entirely new application for our MCT-related products," Sunovia said. "In Phase I, Epir demonstrated that MCT is the best material known for the manufacture of x-ray calorimeters; now, in Phase II, Epir will fabricate x-ray calorimeters that NASA intends to fly on upcoming NASA missions, including Spectrum-X-Gamma (SXG), an international high-energy astrophysics observatory being built under the leadership of the Russian Space Research Institute, and NeXT, the New X-ray Telescope project, a next-generation x-ray astronomy satellite that the Japanese x-ray astronomy group has proposed -- if the NASA proposals for those missions are accepted."

Sunovia said the companies are also designing less expensive high-efficiency solar cells that will use Epir's expertise in the growth of cadmium-telluride on silicon (CdTe/Si).

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