"We are able to send a laser pulse out and get another pulse back from the air itself," said Richard Miles, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton, the research group leader and co-author on the paper. "The returning beam interacts with the molecules in the air and carries their finger prints."
Researchers at Princeton University developed a technique for generating a laser beam out of nothing but air. They focus a pump laser on a distant point in the air and another laser beam comes back. The image shows a pulse of infra-red light from this \"air laser.\" The center region represents the highest intensity; the outer areas have lower intensity light. The technique could be used for sensing minute quantities of gas in the air from a distance. Credit: Image courtesy Arthur Dogariu, Princeton University
The new technique differs from previous remote laser-sensing methods in that the returning beam of light is not just a reflection or scattering of the outgoing beam. It is an entirely new laser beam generated by oxygen atoms whose electrons have been "excited" to high energy levels. This "air laser" is a much more powerful tool than previously existed for remote measurements of trace amounts of chemicals in the air.
The researchers, whose work is funded by the Office of Naval Research's basic research program on Sciences Addressing Asymmetric Explosive Threats, published their new method Jan. 28 in the journal Science.
Miles collaborated with three other researchers: Arthur Dogariu, the lead author on the paper, and James Michael of Princeton, and Marlan Scully, a professor with joint appointments at Princeton and Texas A&M University.
The new laser sensing method uses an ultraviolet laser pulse that is focused on a tiny patch of air, similar to the way a magnifying glass focuses sunlight into a hot spot. Within this hot spot – a cylinder-shaped region just 1 millimeter long – oxygen atoms become "excited" as their electrons get pumped up to high energy levels. When the pulse ends, the electrons fall back down and emit infrared light. Some of this light travels along the length of the excited cylinder region and, as it does so, it stimulates more electrons to fall, amplifying and organizing the light into a coherent laser beam aimed right back at the original laser.
Researchers plan to use a sensor to receive the returning beam and determine what contaminants it encountered on the way back.
"In general, when you want to determine if there are contaminants in the air you need to collect a sample of that air and test it," Miles said. "But with remote sensing you don't need to do that. If there's a bomb buried on the road ahead of you, you'd like to detect it by sampling the surrounding air, much like bomb-sniffing dogs can do, except from far away. That way you're out of the blast zone if it explodes. It's the same thing with hazardous gases – you don't want to be there yourself. Greenhouse gases and pollutants are up in the atmosphere, so sampling is difficult."
The most commonly used remote laser-sensing method, LIDAR -- short for light detection and ranging -- measures the scattering of a beam of light as it reflects off a distant object and returns back to a sensor. It is commonly used for measuring the density of clouds and pollution in the air, but can't determine the actual identity of the particles or gases. Variants of this approach can identify contaminants, but are not sensitive enough to detect trace amounts and cannot determine the location of the gases with much accuracy.
The returning beam is thousands of times stronger in the method developed by the Princeton researchers, which should allow them to determine not just how many contaminants are in the air but also the identity and location of those contaminants.
The stronger signal should also allow for detection of much smaller concentrations of airborne contaminants, a particular concern when trying to detect trace amounts of explosive vapors. Any chemical explosive emits various gases depending on its ingredients, but for many explosives the amount of gas is miniscule.
While the researchers are developing the underlying methods rather than deployable detectors, they envision a device that is small enough to be mounted on, for example, a tank and used to scan a roadway for bombs.
So far, the researchers have demonstrated the process in the laboratory over a distance of about a foot and a half. In the future they plan to increase the distance over which the beams travel, which they note is a straightforward matter of focusing the beam farther way. They also plan to fine-tune the sensitivity of the technique to identify small amounts of airborne contaminants.
In addition, the research group is developing other approaches to remote detection involving a combination of lasers and radar.
"We'd like to be able to detect contaminants that are below a few parts per billion of the air molecules," Miles said. "That's an incredibly small number of molecules to find among the huge number of benign air molecules."
Steven Schultz | EurekAlert!
Quick, Precise, but not Cold
17.05.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Lasertechnik ILT
A laser for divers
03.05.2017 | Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V.
The world's highest gain high power laser amplifier - by many orders of magnitude - has been developed in research led at the University of Strathclyde.
The researchers demonstrated the feasibility of using plasma to amplify short laser pulses of picojoule-level energy up to 100 millijoules, which is a 'gain'...
Staphylococcus aureus is a feared pathogen (MRSA, multi-resistant S. aureus) due to frequent resistances against many antibiotics, especially in hospital infections. Researchers at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut have identified immunological processes that prevent a successful immune response directed against the pathogenic agent. The delivery of bacterial proteins with RNA adjuvant or messenger RNA (mRNA) into immune cells allows the re-direction of the immune response towards an active defense against S. aureus. This could be of significant importance for the development of an effective vaccine. PLOS Pathogens has published these research results online on 25 May 2017.
Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a bacterium that colonizes by far more than half of the skin and the mucosa of adults, usually without causing infections....
Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.
The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....
An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.
We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...
Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.
Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...
24.05.2017 | Event News
23.05.2017 | Event News
22.05.2017 | Event News
29.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
29.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
29.05.2017 | Earth Sciences