System and method for atmospheric contaminant detection

Remote infrared laser-assisted identification of biological pollutants

Photonics Sensors Environmental

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Navy researchers have developed a high-power, high-intensity, laser detector that excites fluorescence upon contact with aerosol contaminants. The patented technology is available via license agreement to companies that would make, use, or sell it commercially.

Navy scientists have developed a system and method to identify aerosol toxins from a safe distance. (JuergenPM/Pixabay)

A standard method for detecting and identifying biological substances suspended in the air in the form of aerosols or clouds involves air sample collection in the field and subsequent analysis in mobile laboratories. While this approach is reasonably accurate, it has many disadvantages. Personnel conducting the tests are exposed to hazardous biological agents, and transporting the test equipment to the testing site can be difficult, especially if the test site is remote or in harsh terrain. Furthermore, it is time-consuming to test large areas in this way, which also decreases the value of the testing itself because of the significant delay in obtaining the test results.

An alternative method for the remote sensing of biological substances is standoff detection, such as a LiDAR (light detection and ranging) using an ultraviolet laser source. However, employing a LiDAR system causes many molecules of interest to be directly excited by radiation in the vacuum ultraviolet (VUV) region, which, unfortunately, is heavily absorbed by the Earth’s atmosphere for wavelengths below 300 nm. Thus, limiting the UV LIDAR detection range to only a few hundred meters, especially in high ozone urban environments.

Navy researchers have addressed these challenges with system and method to detect atmospheric contamination via a remote infrared light source with a longitudinal and a transverse component. The remote detector system deploys a laser beam that is modulated by linearly compressing the longitudinal component and non-linearly compressing the transverse component of the light beam as it passes through the atmosphere. This compression increases power and intensity respectively and generates UV light that excites fluorescence upon contact with contaminants. The system includes a processor that compares the detected fluorescence signatures of know atmospheric contaminants to determine positive identification.

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