A laser-based method for identifying a single atom or molecule hidden among 10 trillion others soon may find its way from the laboratory to the real world.
Developed by physicists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the technique is believed to be more than 1,000 times more sensitive than conventional methods. Vescent Photonics of Denver, Colo., hopes to commercialize the method as an "optical nose" for atmospheric monitoring. The portable sensors would rapidly identify chemicals in a gas sample based on the frequencies of light they absorb. Other applications eventually may include detection of chemical weapons and land mines, patient breath analysis for medical diagnosis or monitoring, and industrial detection of leaks in subterranean pipes or storage tanks, the company says.
Vescent recently signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with NIST. The company will work with NIST physicist Jun Ye (co-developer of the technology) to apply the public domain "optical nose" technique to detecting and quantifying trace quantities of atmospheric gases. Ye works at JILA, a joint institute of NIST and the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Laura Ost | EurekAlert!
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