Using microscopic polymer light resonators that expand in the presence of specific gases, researchers at MIT’s Quantum Photonics Laboratory have developed new optical sensors with predicted detection levels in the parts-per-billion range. Optical sensors are ideal for detecting trace gas concentrations due to their high signal-to-noise ratio, compact, lightweight nature, and immunity to electromagnetic interference. Caption: High-sensitivity detection of dilute gases is demonstrated by monitoring the resonance of a suspended polymer nanocavity. The inset shows the target gas molecules (darker) interacting with the polymer material (lighter). This interaction causes the nanocavity to swell, resulting in a shift of its resonance. Credit: H. Clevenson/MIT Although other optical gas sensors had been developed before, the MIT team conceived an extremely sensitive, compact way to detect vanishingly small amounts of target molecules. They describe their new approach in the journal Applied Physics Letters, from AIP Publishing. The researchers fabricated wavelength-scale photonic crystal cavities from PMMA, an inexpensive and flexible polymer that swells when it comes into contact with a target gas. The polymer is infused with fluorescent dye, which emits selectively at the resonant wavelength of the cavity through a process called the Purcell effect. At this resonance, a specific color of light reflects back and forth
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