In collaboration with the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) and with the support of the Office of Naval Research (ONR), Stevens physics professor Svetlana Malinovskaya is attempting to develop a new idea that might one day lead to a portable device that detects poisonous and hazardous contaminants in the air from a safe distance.
The project has applications for homeland security as well as public safety: for example, detecting gas or chemical leaks before they are visually or otherwise evident.
Malinovskaya, graduate assistant Gengyuan Liu and their collaborators hope to deploy carefully timed, low-intensity laser pulses that temporarily excite molecules in the air, then reflect back to a source device, accumulating a coherent signal that can be used to identify the chemical signature of unusual or hazardous airborne substances when compared against the signature of 'normal' air for a given location.
The technology, for which patent protection will be sought, would utilize quantum techniques to optimize the reflected signals.
"The key is that you want to able to detect these substances remotely, because they may be dangerous," Malinovskaya explains. "You don't want to have to go right up to the sources to measure them. We theorize this new technology may be able to achieve this goal, from distances up to several kilometers away."
After creating theoretical models, Malinovskaya and her Stevens team will prepare' NAVAIR collaborators to perform optical proof-of-concept experiments in a Washington, D.C.-area laboratory.
The ONR award will support Stevens' work on the project for three years.