Dr. Murzy Jhabvala, the chief engineer of NASA Goddard Space Flight Centers’ Instrument Technology Center, has been inducted into the Space Technology Hall of Fame for his role in the successful development and commercialization of Quantum Well Infrared Photodetectors (QWIP). The Space Technology Hall of Fame honors technologies originally developed for space applications that have been commercialized to benefit life on Earth.

Understanding climate changes and the parameters influencing the climate is very important and infrared imaging is an important technology for gathering useful information on this subject. However, prior to 1990, no large format photodetector arrays had been fabricated that would operate at far infrared wavelengths necessary for detecting these changes in ecosystems.

Goddard Space Flight Center teamed with other NASA and government agencies and private industry in a collaborative effort to produce the first quantum well photodetector array (consisting of over 60,000 sensors and transistors in a half inch square) capable of operating in the far infrared. A camera system was developed and incorporated into an aircraft system that successfully performed remote sensing of coastal regions. This technology has since been flown on numerous aircraft missions enabling NASA and other institutions to enhance remote earth observing capabilities.

The QWIP is a complicated solid-state detector that involves growing a superlattice of very thin band-gap engineered gallium arsenide (GaAs) layers on a GaAs wafer. The superlattice arrays are then hybridized, using indium bump bonding techniques, to a silicon readout integrated circuit which converts the detected infrared signal to an electrical signal. The technology can be spectrally tuned for detection of specific infrared wavelengths, designed to operate at longer infrared wavelengths and can be produced at a lower cost than competing technologies. As in most high performance infrared detector systems the QWIP needs to be cooled to around -300 degrees F.

The initial QWIP development was a joint effort that besides Jhabvala and Goddard Space Flight Center, also included Lucent Bell Labs and Rockwell Science Center. In furthering the technology NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, Omnicorder Technologies, QWIP Technologies and the Army Research Laboratory were instrumental in the evolution and implementation of QWIP arrays.

In addition to the Goddard scientific interest for performing airborne earth science, there are a number of potential commercial applications for QWIP technology. Possible uses include medical diagnosis, the location of forest fires, unwanted vegetation encroachment, the ability to monitor crop health, coastal erosion, deforestation of tropical rain forests and the ability to locate and monitor thermal and gaseous pollution sites. Still other possible applications include locating new sources of spring water, monitoring effluents from industrial operations such as paper mills, mining operations and power plants and searching for thermal leaks.

Jhabvala was born in Manhattan, NY. His academic background include a bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island in Engineering Science with an emphasis on Biomedical Engineering, a master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering in the Electrical Engineering Department from Northwestern University and a doctorate in Electrical Engineering from the University of Maryland.

Since joining NASA in1974, Jhabvala has worked in the field of microelectronics designing and fabricating integrated circuits, detectors and high performance visible and infrared imaging systems for numerous NASA space missions. He also served as the Senior Technical Advisor for the Department of Commerce in the administration of the US-Japan Semiconductor Trade Agreement arising from the DRAM memory chip case and which ultimately involved Korea and Taiwan as well.

The author or co-author of over 60 technical papers including policy papers on research and development in the semiconductor industry, Jhabvala holds patents on a variety of microelectronic and medical devices he has invented. He is one of Goddard’s appointed Senior Fellows and has received numerous awards including the NASA Exceptional Service and Exceptional Achievement Medals.