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External cavity tunable quantum cascade lasers and their applications to trace gas monitoring

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Abstract

Since the first quantum cascade laser (QCL) was demonstrated approximately 16 years ago, we have witnessed an explosion of interesting developments in QCL technology and QCL-based trace gas sensors. QCLs operate in the mid-IR region (324μm) and can directly access the rotational vibrational bands of most molecular species and, therefore, are ideally suited for trace gas detection with high specificity and sensitivity. These sensors have applications in a wide range of fields, including environmental monitoring, atmospheric chemistry, medical diagnostics, homeland security, detection of explosive compounds, and industrial process control, to name a few. Tunable external cavity (EC)-QCLs in particular offer narrow linewidths, wide ranges of tunability, and stable power outputs, which open up new possibilities for sensor development. These features allow for the simultaneous detection of multiple species and the study of large molecules, free radicals, ions, and reaction kinetics. In this article, we review the cur rent status of EC-QCLs and sensor developments based on them and speculate on possible future developments.

© 2011 Optical Society of America

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