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Physicists Unite To Develop Anthrax Detection Method

Physicists have joined forces to perfect a powerful new weapon in the war on terrorism – a laser technique to identify deadly anthrax spores. //Their results are published in the prestigious journal Science, due to hit newsstands tomorrow.

“Our report shows how to use lasers to detect anthrax in real time as opposed to the cumbersome and wieldy way it is done now,” says Marlan Scully, Distinguished Professor of Physics at Texas A&M and holder of a joint faculty appointment at Princeton’s Applied Physics and Materials Science Group. “We do our experiments ‘on the fly’, so we can get a signature within a tiny fraction of a second. Our procedure can work for monitoring anthrax in mail, but it can also scan the whole atmosphere. And there are a lot of other potential applications -- monitoring glucose in the blood, for example.”

The technique was developed by Scully and a group of 11 other researchers, including Texas A&M physicists Dmitry Pestov, Gombojav O. Ariunbold, Xi Wang, Miaochan Zhi, Alexei V. Sokolov, and Vladimir A. Sautenkov, Princeton physicists Arthur Dogariu and Yu Huang, and joint Texas A&M and Princeton scientists Robert K. Murawski and Yuri V. Rostovtsev. The group co-authored the Science article.

The new technique is based on coherent anti-Stokes Raman scattering (CARS), a phenomenon that measures the light scattering that occurs when a molecule is bombarded by light energy (photons). Molecules are composed of two or more atoms, and the subatomic particles which make up these atoms are in constant motion, producing vibration patterns unique to each substance. When a molecule is hit by an appropriate sequence of laser pulses, it gives off light in a specific ‘fingerprint’ pattern. If three laser pulses are used, the resultant emitted light yields a coherent signature at a particular frequency.

“Unfortunately, however, when anthrax molecules are subjected to such study, their CARS signature can be obscured
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