Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Compact, wavelength-on-demand Quantum Cascade Laser chip offers ultra-sensitive chemical sensing

Engineers from Harvard University have demonstrated a highly versatile, compact and portable Quantum Cascade Laser sensor for the fast detection of a large number of chemicals, ranging from infinitesimal traces of gases to liquids, by broad tuning of the emission wavelength.

The potential range of applications is huge, including homeland security, medical diagnostics such as breadth analysis, pollution monitoring, and environmental sensing of the greenhouse gases responsible for global warming.

The team, which will report its findings in the Dec. 3 issue of Applied Physics Letters, is headed by Federico Capasso, the Robert L. Wallace Professor of Applied Physics and Vinton Hayes Senior Research Fellow in Electrical Engineering, and includes graduate student Benjamin Lee, researchers Mikhail Belkin and Jim MacArthur, and undergraduate Ross Audet, all of Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. The researchers have also filed for U.S. patents covering this new class of laser chips.

The broad emission spectrum of the Quantum Cascade Laser material, grown by a commercial reactor used for the mass production of semiconductor lasers, is designed using state-of-the-art nanotechnology by controlling the size of nanometric thin quantum wells in the active region. An array of 32 lasers, each designed to emit at a specific wavelength, is then fabricated on a single chip by standard semiconductor processing techniques to have a size of less than one-fourth of a dime. A microcomputer individually fires up and tunes each laser in the array in any desired sequence. This generates a broad and continuously tunable wavelength spectrum that can be used to detect a large number of chemical compounds.

"Our versatile laser spectrometer currently emits any wavelengths between 8.7 and 9.4 microns, in the so-called 'molecular fingerprint region' where most molecules have their telltale absorption features which uniquely identify them," Belkin says. "This ability to design a broad laser spectrum anywhere in the fingerprint region holds the promise of replacing the bulky and large infrared spectrometers currently used for chemical analysis and sensing."

The tunability of the laser chip can be extended up to 10-fold and several widely spaced absorption features can be targeted with the same chip, which will enable the detection in parallel of an extremely large number of trace gases in concentrations of parts per billion in volume. A portable compact spectrometer with this capability would revolutionize chemical sensing.

"These millimeter-size laser chips exploit the inherent enormous wavelength agility of state-of-the-art Quantum Cascade Lasers," says Capasso, who co-invented them in 1994 at Bell Labs. "As a first application we have shown that these widely tunable and extremely compact sensors can measure the spectrum of liquids with the same accuracy and reproducibility of state-of-the-art infrared spectrometers, but with inherently greater spectral resolution."

Eliza Grinnell | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Physicists made crystal lattice from polaritons
20.03.2018 | ITMO University

nachricht Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions
20.03.2018 | University of California - Berkeley

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

Im Focus: Tiny implants for cells are functional in vivo

For the first time, an interdisciplinary team from the University of Basel has succeeded in integrating artificial organelles into the cells of live zebrafish embryos. This innovative approach using artificial organelles as cellular implants offers new potential in treating a range of diseases, as the authors report in an article published in Nature Communications.

In the cells of higher organisms, organelles such as the nucleus or mitochondria perform a range of complex functions necessary for life. In the networks of...

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

Im Focus: Surveying the Arctic: Tracking down carbon particles

Researchers embark on aerial campaign over Northeast Greenland

On 15 March, the AWI research aeroplane Polar 5 will depart for Greenland. Concentrating on the furthest northeast region of the island, an international team...

Im Focus: Unique Insights into the Antarctic Ice Shelf System

Data collected on ocean-ice interactions in the little-researched regions of the far south

The world’s second-largest ice shelf was the destination for a Polarstern expedition that ended in Punta Arenas, Chile on 14th March 2018. Oceanographers from...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Physicists made crystal lattice from polaritons

20.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

20.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Thawing permafrost produces more methane than expected

20.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>