Lab+Life Scientist Jun 2016

Page 38

fibre laser Adam Florance

An amazing laser

A team of Australian researchers has developed a revolutionary new type of optical fibre laser that is cost-effective to produce, portable and can be tuned to operate over a wide range of the infrared spectrum. Potential applications include remote sensing of organic molecules such as greenhouse gases and medical diagnostics.


Project leader David Ottaway is an Associate Professor at the School of Physical Sciences and the Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing at the University of Adelaide. He explained that the asers generally work at one wavelength,

obvious and immediate application of this new

but this new laser can be tuned into a wide range

laser is in detecting the “molecular fingerprints”

of wavelengths over the infrared light spectrum,

of organic molecules, such as hydrocarbon gases,

according to lead author and postdoctoral fellow

which absorb light at varied frequencies. “By

at the University of Adelaide Dr Ori Henderson-

changing the wavelength of our laser, we can

Sapir. “In fact,” he said, “this laser has the largest

measure the light absorption patterns of different

wavelength tuning ever demonstrated by a fibre

chemicals with a high degree of sensitivity,” he said.

laser, and reaches further into the mid-infrared than

Remote sensing of greenhouse gases, including

ever achieved before from a fibre laser operating at

ethane and methane, at considerable distances will

room temperature.”

enable researchers to focus on areas of concern

The research was a joint effort between Macquarie University and the University of

involving various emission sources from agriculture and industry.

Adelaide with support from the Australian Research

The new laser also has potential applications

Council and the South Australian Premier’s

in the medical field. The analysis of trace gases in

Research and Industry Fund.

exhaled breath can be used to diagnose diseases such as diabetes, but the bulk and expense of the requisite equipment has limited its use in the past. Macquarie University’s Associate Professor Stuart Jackson explained: “The main limitation to date with laser detection of these gases has been the lack of suitable and affordable light sources that can produce enough energy and operate at the correct part of the light spectrum.” Using a less cumbersome and more costeffective optical fibre, the new laser has the potential to become a very useful sensing tool in medical diagnostics with “incredible potential for scanning for a range of gases with a high level of sensitivity”, according to Dr Ottaway. “We hope this laser will open up opportunities for lasers in the mid-infrared in a similar manner that titanium doped sapphire lasers revolutionised lasers operating in the visible and near-infrared,”

The new laser in action. Image credit: Ori Henderson-Sapir, University of Adelaide.

he said. This research was published in the journal Optics Letters.

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