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The world's most powerful terahertz quantum cascade laser
Date:10/30/2013

Terahertz waves are invisible, but incredibly useful; they can penetrate many materials which are opaque to visible light and they are perfect for detecting a variety of molecules. Terahertz radiation can be produced using tiny quantum cascade lasers, only a few millimetres wide. This special kind of lasers consists of tailor made semiconductor layers on a nanometer scale. At the Vienna University of Technology (TU Vienna) a new world record has now been set; using a special merging technique, two symmetrical laser structures have been joined together, resulting in a quadruple intensity of laser light.

Jumping Electrons Create Terahertz Light

For the electrons in each layer of the quantum cascade laser, only certain discrete energy levels are allowed. If the right electrical current is applied, the electrons jump from layer to layer, in each step emitting energy in the form of light. This way, the exotic terahertz radiation with wavelengths in the sub-millimetre regime (between microwaves and infrared) can be produced with high efficiency.

Many molecules absorb light of this spectral region in a very characteristic way they can be considered to have an "optical fingerprint". Because of this, terahertz radiation can be used for chemical detectors. It also plays an important role for medical imaging; one the one hand, it is non-ionizing radiation, its energy is considerably lower than that of roentgen radiation, therefore it is not dangerous. On the other hand, its wavelength is shorter than that of microwave radiation, which means that it can be used to create higher resolution images.

These applications may bring back memories of the legendary "Tricorder" from Star Trek, a portable multi-purpose analytical instrument. For measuring objects at a distance and for medical imaging, compact light sources with a very high optical power are required.

A possible way to increase the laser power is to use more semicond
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Contact: Florian Aigner
florian.aigner@tuwien.ac.at
0043-158-801-41027
Vienna University of Technology
Source:Eurekalert  

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