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Laser bloodhound We have a winner! The inventors have picked Atmospheric monitoring of greenhouse gas isotopes for determining and attributing emission sources by Kat Potter as their winner for this competition. Here's what they had to say:

"All the entries where great, and thanks for all the contributions and the time dedicated. All finalist grasped the technology well and clearly laid out the application with a focus on the technologies key features. This made it especially difficult to decide on the winner. However we decided on Kat Potter’s entry as she thought outside the box with the application in isotope analysis. Kat carried out great due diligence and detailed both technical application notes and commercial due diligence. We were particularly impressed as Kat pointed out the competitors in the market, their limitations and how best to take our technology forward. Thanks to all who contributed to this competition, the research, time and effort carried out by everyone has truly helped us in understanding applications better and where the technologies’ potential lies. This will no doubt help us take the laser bloodhound forward and put it into the real world! Finally congratulation to Kat Potter for an excellent submission and well thought out proposal!"

Hello Marblarverse! We’re excited to present to you a novel laser spectroscopy technique co-developed by the Science and Technology Facilities Council and Princeton. A spectrometer is a device that determines the chemical composition of samples. In regular infrared spectroscopy, which we all know and love, a laser beam is absorbed by the chemical bonds in a sample, causing them to vibrate. The resulting spectrum of absorption at a specific wavelength can be used to quantify the presence of a given molecule.

Now, instead of measuring how much of our infra-red laser is absorbed by the sample, we looked at another way the light is affected: dispersion. This is what we measure in CLaDS (Chirped Laser Dispersion Spectroscopy). Go check out the slides for some more detail on how it all works. In addition to being some seriously cool science, measuring dispersion instead of absorption gives the method some huge advantages over the standard absorption principle. Advantages include enhanced sensitivity (up to parts per billion/trillion (ppb/ppt) - putting any natural blood-hound to shame!) and signal-to-noise ratio as well as high immunity to intensity variations (making it useful in situation where environmental conditions scatter the beam, e.g. in open path detection). Most interestingly we have a dynamic range from ppb to almost 100% concentration - useful in for example exhaust analysis, where analyte concentrations range from trace amounts to near-opacity (see slides).

CLaDS is currently designed for single, light molecule (e.g. CO2, N2O, etc.) species detection. Simultaneous multiple species and larger gas molecules can be detected; however this requires a broadband source that will increase the system’s size, complexity and cost.

Potential applications
Keeping in mind the limitations of the technique, there are a lot of areas in trace-gas sensing where the device could be valuable:
  • breath diagnostics, e.g. using ammonia as a biomarker for liver disease,
  • process and air-quality monitoring, such as exhaust gas analysis, which requires high dynamic range,
  • atmospheric measurements using open path detection, where laser power received by the detector varies due to e.g. rain and dust in the air.
  • security/surveillance.

Your mission
The technology is at its early stages and specific applications have not been explored thoroughly, so we’re keen to hear any specific ideas within the above categories - as well as completely new ideas of course. A great entry would:
  • create a competitive advantage from the device’s unique features (high sensitivity/dynamic range, immunity to laser power variations) while not requiring detection of many/complex species.
  • be as specific as possible,
  • outline a clear market potential and path to market as well as comparing CLaDS to existing competitiors in the space.
Get creative!

Key Features
  • High sensitivity in the parts per billion (ppb) to parts per trillion (ppt) range and comparable to gas chromatography. If lower sensitivity measurements in parts per million (ppm) are required, a cheaper laser-type can be used in the form of a tunable diode lasers rather than a quantum cascade (QC) laser.
  • Linear response over the full dynamic range (ppb to 100%). Traditional devices have limited dynamic range e.g. 3-300 ppm for CO2 for the absorption-based QC-laser system described here. This is due to the non-linearity associated with the physics of absorption. 
  • Highly immune to laser power variations, thus deployable in situations where received power may fluctuate due to environmental conditions that scatter the beam (such as outdoor atmospheric measurements subject to rainfall, snow, fog, dust, soot, etc.) or mechanical vibration.
  • The above makes it especially suitable for remote open path detection to accurately analyse the chemical composition of the atmosphere - more info in the slides.
  • Robust and compact (shoebox size).
  • Limitation: the device is specific to only a single species, depending on the frequency of the laser. By adding multiple lasers or using a broadband laser device, several compounds can be analyzed in parallel, however, this adds additional cost and complexity to the system.

The Story behind the Science
I’m Damien Weidman and my lab is based in Oxford, England. I've developed CLaDS together with Gerard Wysocki in one of the Space technology labs run by the Science & Technology Facilities Council. My focus is primarily on the development of ultra-sensitive tuneable-laser-based optical sensors and methods for atmospheric, environmental, medical, and security applications – currently a pretty hot R&D area.

CLaDS was actually discovered by pure serendipity when we noticed some odd effects in the data while we were playing around with different laser setups. As it turns out, the technique ended up having several unique features that could make it have a big impact on the challenges faced in e.g. the environmental, security and health sectors. I’m sure we haven’t even scratched the surface of what we can do with this cool gadget, so we’re very excited to hear your input.

More Information
Patent WO/2011/058330: Detecting species in a dilute medium

Optics Express, Vol. 18, Issue 25, pp. 26123-26140 (2010): Molecular dispersion spectroscopy for chemical sensing using chirped mid-infrared quantum cascade laser
Challenge Discussion
Lee Cairns on Jul 09, 2013
Have you considered using the laser for THz communication systems? One of the current problems is the power of the source, therefore if this is more powerful than current QCLs, and can be easily modulated, it may be able to provide an advantage to current THz sources. Though, THz communications is still in it's infancy and I assume this would at best start an academic collaboration;,d.d2k&cad=rja
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Barry Nicholson on Jun 22, 2013
This sounds like a great technique. I have a question about the potential interference from the medium containing the chemical to be detected; if that also disperses the beams (i.e. has different refractive index at different frequencies), what influence would that have on the measurement. For example, if I want to measure gases dissolved in water, would the water have any influence? Also - when can this be made available for testing (and for how much)?
Mohammed Belal (Inventor) on Jun 22, 2013
Hi Barry, thanks for your interest. Currently the technique would not be able to measure gasses dissolved in water, this is a result of the water absorbing the light - thus no signal is received at the detector. In terms of cross sensitivity with other chemicals in the sample - the technique offers very high precision as a result of the laser used (accessing the mid-ir where most gases have strong signal and large cross section) and the technique that is phase dependant. However the inventor (Daminen Weidmann) has developed a novel technique that has the potential to carry out the gas in liquid task out at high sensitivity. Would be happy to discuss this further at a convenient time for you Barry.
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Chris van Halewyn on Jun 12, 2013
Can the detector provide a ppb response to methane? I know that there are entries for monitoring greenhouse gases but atmospheric methane needs to be measured at high sensitivity to be useful.

One particular area of scientific interest is the wide area measurement of Arctic methane.
"Arctic methane release is the release of methane from seas and soils in permafrost regions of the Arctic. While a long-term natural process, it may be exacerbated by global warming. This results in a positive feedback effect, as methane is itself a powerful greenhouse gas. The feedback of the undisturbed process is comparably weak, however, because the local release leads to a warming spread over the whole globe." (See Wikipedia )

There is a photo on the wikipedia page that shows methane measurement using what is basically an upside down fish tank on the tundra for measuring gas being evolved.

The problem with Artic methane extends to Clathrite in the Artic Ocean as well, "A 2011 Russian survey off the East Siberian coast found plumes wider than one kilometer releasing methane directly into the atmosphere".

If the bloodhound has the required resolution for CH4 I would imagine that sea surface glint reflection (and reflections from land surface melt water) might return enough laser energy so that surveys from the air could charactorise and monitor very large areas in the artic.

Mohammed Belal (Inventor) on Jun 12, 2013
Hi Chris, this is a very interesting application, Damien has certainly shown interest in this. You should submit this in the brainstorm section. Do you work in this field? One thing we would really like to do is test CLaDS in a real life application and this could really prove its superior capabilities. It would be great if we could discuss this further and brianstorm ideas on taking it forward (e.g. who would support the trial? academics worth speaking to? Current methods used and our advantage?). The exciting prospect here is the immunity to power fluctuations and thus capability in such a demanding environment. Great use of the technology.
Chris van Halewyn on Jun 12, 2013
Well now I have to submit it I guess...
No I don't work in the field but I have worked in related areas. I'm happy to discuss this further if you wish -you have what seems to me is a very nice piece of kit.
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Mark Stevens on Jun 11, 2013
Due to it's small size, would it be applicable to remote monitoring of air quality - either within cities or near power stations? Monitoring single species, such as CO2 or N2O, would not be as great a limitation in theses areas.
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Bordford Kwan on Jun 11, 2013
Can the device detect minor water vapor in drought area to help identifying water source?
Or even applied in Mars to identify water source?
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Preston Kershner on Jun 11, 2013
I agree with some of the other contributors that it would have a beneficial use for patients that are being care for in an ICU or surgical setting where real-time gas exchanges would be quiet useful (especially if it can provide arterial gas info --CO2, O2, CO, etc). I am sure that if met with the right medical colleagues that this would have an impact on patients that suffer from a variety of other medical conditions i.e. GI, certain skin disorders, potentially cancer research as well. Thanks!!
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Vipul Gupta on Jun 11, 2013
I think it will be cheaper, compare to current technologies, to use it for leakages, for example in cooking gas supplies. It can also be use in checking the water contamination.
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Anouk Pinchetti on May 20, 2013
Could it be used from a sattelite to monitor emissions of specific pollutants globally in accordance with, say, a Kyoto protocol-type agreement?
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Anouk Pinchetti on May 20, 2013
Remote early warning system for volcanic eruptions, measuring changes in the concentration of emitted sulphur dioxide above ground. I do think live volcanoes in populated areas tend to be well monitored already, but something to consider.
Tim Tim on May 20, 2013
In New Zealand a study was carried out [1] for a city that is renowned for it's volcanic & geothermal proximity. I think a device that monitors in real-time would be a public winner for their council. The study was done with: University of Otago, Wellington, the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University.

The results for long term effects on the nervous system, and eyes is still to come. Certainly a receptive city that has it's fingers firmly on the research button!

[1] - Rotorua’s hydrogen sulphide does not worsen asthma
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Jeremy Chatfield on May 19, 2013
Remote (e.g. aerial) detection of unusual pharmaceutical production? Crack houses, cannabis grow houses?
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Gregory Perkins on May 16, 2013
Land mine detection. Connect to a computer controlled scanner and scan a field for land mines. The computer will map the location of the mines in the field.
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