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Tiny Lasers Could Help Fight Bio-Weapons

WASHINGTON, March 7, 2014 — Biochemical weapons could be a big threat, but a new DARPA program is proposing a very small solution: tiny lasers.

The research agency has established a program called Laser UV Sources for Tactical Efficient Raman (LUSTER), which will begin developing a small-scale, portable and budget-conscious Raman spectroscopy system that relies on efficient, high-power, tiny UV lasers. UV happens to be the optimal wavelength for Raman-based standoff detection.

Such detection and identification technology already exists, said Dan Green, program manager for DARPA, but it is currently quite expensive and very large, and its functionality is limited.

“Today’s standoff detection systems are so large and heavy that trucks are required to move them,” he said. “LUSTER seeks to develop new laser sources for breakthrough chemical and biological agent detection systems that are compact and light enough to be carried by an individual, while being more efficient than today’s systems.”

DARPA plans to build on the Compact Mid-Ultraviolet Technology program, in which record-high-power UV LEDs were developed with high efficiencies and wavelengths approaching those used under LUSTER. But while LEDs have limited sensitivity, LUSTER will create a new laser technology that Green said has the accuracy of today’s expensive lasers, but with the low cost and high reliability of LEDs.

The technology could have additional uses, including diagnostics, manufacturing and atomic clocks.

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