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Time and frequency

Trace gas detection

Using frequency stabilised lasers to enable developments in trace gas detection

Improved detection techniques for various molecular species at trace levels is increasingly in demand. For example, there is a strong requirement in the microelectronics and cleanroom community for detection of trace levels of airborne contaminants such as ammonia and HCl to help minimise semiconductor production losses. We achieve rapid determination of trace contaminant levels using narrow-linewidth optical cavities similar to those developed for optical clock applications. Also, global detection and long-term monitoring of atmospheric trace gases, particularly carbon dioxide, is key to understanding environmental change. This is addressed in an ESA-funded activity to develop a frequency stabilised laser at 2051 nm.

Our ESA-funded project to develop a space-borne frequency standard is targeted at the monitoring of atmospheric carbon dioxide using differential absorption lidar (DIAL) with either one or a number of satellites in low-earth orbit. In a future ESA mission, our laser system could be used to map atmospheric CO2 emissions with greater detail than previously possible.

The medical industry could also benefit from the techniques described here as non-invasive monitoring of human health is possible by detection of specific biomarkers in exhaled breath. The applications include detection of illness, including cancer, and monitoring the patient during surgical procedures that involve specific anaesthetics.

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Case study

Characterising vapour cells for ultra-accurate atomic clocks


Improving manufacturing processes and controlling contamination


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