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Quantum cascade laser spectroscopy: diagnostics to non-linear optics

Duxbury, Geoffrey and Langford, Nigel and Hay, Kenneth and Tasinato, Nicola (2009) Quantum cascade laser spectroscopy: diagnostics to non-linear optics. Journal of Modern Optics, 56 (18-19). pp. 2034-2048. ISSN 0950-0340

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In many examples of the use of mid-infrared quantum cascade (QC) lasers for gas detection or process monitoring, an assumption is made that their use is an obvious extension of tuneable diode laser spectroscopy. We wish to show that making such an assumption is not necessarily justified when the frequency sweep rate is rapid, as is down-chirped QC laser infrared radiation. This is demonstrated via a series of experiments designed to investigate the physics of the interaction of chirped infrared laser radiation with low pressure gases. The unusual signals, which characterise the rapid passage of the down-chirped radiation through a low pressure gas, are due to two main effects, the laser sweep rate, and the long path length of the refocusing cells used. The sweep rate of the laser frequency may be faster than the inter-molecular collision frequency, allowing the build up of a strong molecular alignment within the gas. The long optical path lengths in the refocusing absorption cells, used to facilitate sensitive detection of trace gases, allow the build up of a large macroscopic polarisation within the gas cell. We give examples of this behaviour in molecules with large transition dipole moments, ammonia and nitrous oxide, and with a very small one (OCO)-O-18-C-12-O-16. We also outline the use of Maxwell-Bloch calculations to investigate the origins of this behaviour, and hence to define operating conditions where the concentration of trace molecules may be determined.