A spectroscopy technique that offers advances in detection of toxic chemicals and counting of molecules has been demonstrated by a National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) scientist and collaborators. Described in the Feb. 8 issue of the Journal of Chemical Physics, the NIST-patented technique may be useful for development of miniaturized chemical sensors, as well as for fundamental surface science studies.
The technique (a variation on cavity ring-down spectroscopy) relies on laser light reflecting and circulating inside a prism-like optical resonator. The time it takes the light to diminish (or ring down) changes depending on whether specific chemicals are present near the resonator and on how much light they absorb. This information can be used to identify and quantify specific molecules.
The technique can detect small amounts (100 parts per million) of trichloroethylene, a toxic commercial solvent that is prevalent but difficult to locate in the environment. The sensitivity is equivalent to the best of other published optical methods that could be used outside a laboratory. A highly selective coating is expected to enhance performance further.
Laura Ost | EurekAlert!
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