Saturday, January 29, 2011

'Air laser' may sniff bombs, pollutants from a distance

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.


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. ...

via 'Air laser' may sniff bombs, pollutants from a distance.

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