Researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Toptica Photonics AG, and the University of Colorado Boulder have developed a device that can detect specific molecules in a sample every 20 nanoseconds. This new device, called a frequency comb system, has the potential to better understand fast-moving processes such as the workings of hypersonic jet engines and the chemical reactions between enzymes that regulate cell growth.
Frequency combs are laser systems that can accurately and sensitively identify molecules ranging from carbon dioxide to monoclonal antibodies. However, they have been limited in capturing high-speed processes until now. The research team used a simpler and cheaper setup called “electro-optic combs” to detect changes in the absorption of light at the 20-nanosecond time scale. This setup involved splitting a continuous beam of light into two beams and shaping them into individual “teeth” that represent specific colors or frequencies of light absorbed by the molecules of interest.
In their experiment, the researchers used the device to measure supersonic pulses of carbon dioxide in an air-filled chamber. They were able to observe the interaction between carbon dioxide and the air, which provided insights into the motion of the pulse. This information could be used to improve combustion engines or understand how greenhouse gases interact with the atmosphere.
The researchers also included information in their paper that allows other researchers to replicate the system in their labs. This opens up the possibility of using frequency combs to study fast processes across various research fields and industries. The work was supported in part by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.
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