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Scientists invent laser source to detect pollution

Eirini Tagkoudi, Camille Brès and Davide Grassani, authors of the laser study EFPL 2019

Researchers in Lausanne have developed a simple mid-infrared laser source that can be used to detect pollution in the air or molecules in someone’s breath. 

This content was published on April 4, 2019 - 18:50
EFPL/Keystone SDA/sb

The new technology, developed by scientists at the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), consists of a laser with a photonic chip measuring just a few millimeters across and the advantage is that it can fit in a tiny suitcase.

Their research was published recently in Nature CommunicationsExternal link. 

To create the compact device, the team combined a commercially available fiber laser with a micrometer waveguide chip to generate light waves in the mid-infrared spectrum. They then added a spectrometer to demonstrate the potential of this light source, successfully detecting the presence and concentration of acetylene, a colorless and highly flammable gas. 

The mid-infrared spectrum used allows scientists to detect a range of particles in the environment, greenhouse gases or even human breath. 

“This device sets a new benchmark for efficiency,” said EPFL researcher Davide Grassani. “This is the first time anyone has created a fully integrated spectroscopic laser source. It does away with the painstaking process of precisely aligning all the parts in a conventional laser system.

Their discovery paves the way for miniaturized mid-infrared technologies.

“Once we’ve developed the system further, we could well see on-chip detectors that scientists can easily carry out into the field,” said Camille Brès, project coordinator and head of the Photonic Systems Laboratory, which belongs to EPFL’s School of Engineering. 

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