UT Arlington Researcher Wins DARPA Grant to Develop Compact Ultraviolet Lasers for Trace Chemical Detection

An  electrical engineering researcher at the University of Texas at Arlington recently won a $600,000 federal grant to develop and produce a small ultraviolet lasers for detection systems that spot trace amounts of chemical and biological agents used in weapons. Weidong Zhou, an electrical engineering professor who specializes in nanophotonics, won the grant. The grant award is part of a three-year, $4.3 million Defense Advance Research Projects Agency project to make ultraviolet laser detection more portable so it can be available in the field.

In addition to reducing the cost of and increasing the sensitivity of such devices, DARPA reportedly hopes to reduce the size to make a portable device a person could carry. Currently, detection devices are sometimes large enough to require trucks to haul them around.

Michigan State University leads the multi-institutional project.

The project’s goal is to create a new class of ultraviolet lasers that are more than 300 times smaller and ten times more efficient than current lasers. Current detection systems could use the resulting technology could save power, and reduce the size and weight and to create new systems that are both more sensitive and smaller.

“It’s like shining a light to find one of these chemical or biological agents. It’s like finding these agents’ fingerprints,” Zhou said. “The Army needs something that’s portable.” Zhou noted that current detection systems are huge and bulky. “They certainly can’t be taken into the field or moved easily,” Zhou said.

Khosrow Behbehani, dean of the UT Arlington College of Engineering, pointed out that Zhou’s laser technology has other potential applications including secure communications, advanced manufacturing, compact atomic clocks, environmental monitoring, and medical diagnostics.