01.10.17

First Commercial, Quantum Cascade Laser for Full Fingerprinting of Atmospheric Pollutants

Daylight Solutions has turned a scientific phenomenon discovered in the 1990s into a commercial product that benefits society by detecting contaminant molecules in the air.

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First Commercial, Quantum Cascade Laser for Full Fingerprinting of Atmospheric Pollutants

Daylight Solutions’ external cavity quantum cascade laser. Daylight Solutions has developed a suite of mid-infrared (mid-IR) tunable and fixed wavelength lasers to support cutting-edge molecular detection and imaging applications. All molecules of interest have a color in the mid-IR. If it has a color, it can be seen and if it can be seen, Daylight can detect it.
Data plot showing the excellent agreement between two N2O spectra. The high-resolution spectrum recorded using Daylight Solutions’ laser (red), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) database spectrum (blue).

R&D Opportunity

The ability to detect molecules with specialized laser light is driving immense interest in applications spanning standoff detection of improvised explosive devices, process control, and pollutant monitoring, to name a few. For instance, to understand how greenhouse gases modify the atmosphere, we need to study the composition, distribution, and energy of the molecules that make up the gases. Infrared spectroscopy using infrared lasers is a sensitive technique for making these kinds of measurements. The challenge is that, to map out the whole spectral “fingerprint” of these molecules, the laser needs to be able to cover a wide region of the infrared spectrum. This was nearly impossible before the 1990s, when scientists made a breakthrough discovery known as quantum cascade laser (QCL) technology, which relies on the growth of ultra-thin layers of tailored semiconductors, referred to as quantum wells.

Solution

Daylight Solutions succeeded in the ambitious goal of turning highly experimental QCL laboratory devices into reliable, marketable laser products. A significant component of this success was the availability, in the company’s earlier stages, of research and development (R&D) funds through SBIR awards. “It was thanks to SBIR awards that we were able to make progress on novel design concepts and critical materials science issues. An SBIR award ultimately led to a workable prototype for a widely tunable QCL laser product, for example,” said Leigh Bromley, Director of Scientific Products at Daylight Solutions.

The R&D performed through Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) projects helped Daylight Solutions establish a foundation of core technologies. With this foundation, they generated other new, innovative products. For example, Daylight Solutions created the first mid-infrared laser-based microscope for real-time spectral imaging of materials and biological tissue. These and other innovations all required substantial R&D to develop a workable prototype and then transfer it into production. In several cases, this work was supported by SBIR awards with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), including Phase II SBIR in 2007 awarded by DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration; the Department of Defense; and the National Science Foundation.

Impact

“Like any startup, in its early days Daylight Solutions’ limited size and financial resources made it challenging for the company to perform the necessary R&D to elevate a proof of concept to the manufacture-ready level,” added Bromley. “The SBIR program is very important because it allows small companies to explore new ideas at an early stage in their evolution that they might otherwise not be able to. Using SBIR funds, small companies can make a prototype and test it to see if the concept is technically feasible and scalable. SBIR allows companies to reduce risk factors, test ideas, and move them towards production.” Thanks to this approach, Daylight Solution has been able to commit itself to innovation, as testified by the numerous innovation awards received and patents issued. Technological innovation has paved the way to private and government contracts and projects totaling over $90 million. And as a result, Daylight Solutions is today in the process of doubling its staff and manufacturing facilities.

Contact

Leigh Bromley, Director, Scientific Products, Daylight Solutions
lbromley@daylightsolutions.com, www.daylightsolutions.comExternal link

Funding

Company Name:Daylight Solutions, Inc.
Project Title:Tunable Infrared Quantum Cascade Lasers for Active Electro-Optical Remote Sensing
Award Type:SBIR Phase II
Year of Award:2007
DOE Office:National Nuclear Security Administration
DOE Grant Number:DE-FG02-06ER84631

Highlight Categories

Program: NNSA

Last modified: 1/10/2017 2:29:09 PM