A team of researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, led by Lan Yang, PhD, the Das Family Career Development Associate Professor in Electrical & Systems Engineering, and their collaborators at Tsinghua University in China have developed a new sensor that can detect and count nanoparticles, at sizes as small as 10 nanometers, one at a time. The researchers say the sensor could potentially detect much smaller particles, viruses and small molecules.
Yang and her colleagues have created the Raman micro laser sensor in a silicon dioxide chip to find individual nanoparticles without the need to "dope" the chip with chemicals called rare-earth ions to provide optical gain for the micro laser. Incorporating additions to the micro resonator creates the need for more processing steps and increased costs and invites biocompatibility risks. In addition, the use of rare-earth ions requires specific "pump" lasers matching the energy transitions of the ions to generate optical gain, so for different rare-earth ions, different pump lasers must be used.
Yang's team integrated Raman lasing in a silica micro cavity with the mode splitting technique pioneered by her group to develop a new, powerful sensor that more readily detects nanoparticles. The technology will benefit the electronics, acoustics, biomedical, plasmonics, security and meta materials fields.
Yang's micro sensor is in a class called whispering gallery mode resonators (WGMRs) because it works similarly to the renowned whispering gallery in London's St. Paul's Cathedral, where a person on one side of the dome can hear a message spoken to the wall by another person on the other side. Yang's device does much the same thing with light frequencies rather than audible ones.
In addition to the demonstration of Raman micro lasers for particle sensing, the team says their work shows the possibility of using intrinsic gain mechanisms, such as Raman and parametric gain, instead of optical dyes, rare-earth ions or quantum dots, for loss compensation in optical and plasmonic systems where dissipation hinders progress and limits applications.
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