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UI researchers develop new infrared laser

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University of Iowa researchers have developed a new infrared laser that may one day help scientists to better detect levels of air pollution.

The research finding, published in the Dec. 29, 1997 issue of the journal Applied Physics Letters , is co-authored by Michael FlattÇ, Thomas Hasenberg and Thomas Boggess, all of the UI Optical Science and Technology Center (OSTC) and faculty members in the department of physics and astronomy; Jonathon Olesberg, UI graduate fellow in physics and astronomy; and Scott Anson, graduate research assistant in electrical and computer engineering.

The device emits light with a wavelength of about 5.2 microns, or 10 times that of visible light, and is the longest wavelength semiconductor laser of its kind, according to FlattÇ, who designed the laser. The laser was grown by Hasenberg and characterized by Boggess, who is also a professor of electrical and computer engineering in the UI College of Engineering.

Most colors of long-wavelength infrared laser light, invisible to the human eye, are not readily absorbed by normal atmospheric gases. "Trace amounts of other chemicals will absorb that light, however, so similar lasers will eventually have applications in detecting pollutants," says FlattÇ. He adds that additional applications may range from non-invasive biomedical monitoring to devices offering countermeasures to heat-seeking missiles.

Semiconductor lasers are the most efficient and inexpensive commercial lasers and are used in a wide variety of products, such as supermarket scanners and CD players. Previously tested long-wavelength infrared semiconductor lasers were either inefficient or used materials that were easily damaged.

The UI faculty work to date has been supported by more than $1 million in grants from the National Science Foundation, Hughes Research Laboratories and the U.S. Air Force Phillips Laboratories. Associate Professor Winston Chan of the UI College of Engineering department of electrical and computer engineering joined the effort in April and currently processes the grown semiconductor material into laser devices. Other co-authors of the journal article are Chi Yan of the Boeing Defense and Space Group and D.L. McDaniel, Jr. of the U.S. Air Force Phillips Laboratory, both located at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico.

12/31/97