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'Air laser' may sniff bombs, pollutants from a distance
Date:2/16/2011

Princeton University engineers have developed a new laser sensing technology that may allow soldiers to detect hidden bombs from a distance and scientists to better measure airborne environmental pollutants and greenhouse gasses.

"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."

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, amp
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Contact: Steven Schultz
sschultz@princeton.edu
609-258-3617
Princeton University, Engineering School
Source:Eurekalert  

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