New Study First to Demonstrate a Chip-Scale Broadband Optical System that Can Sense Molecules in the Mid-Infrared

Columbia Engineering system could lead to a spectroscopy lab-on-a-chip for real-time sensing in the microseconds

May 24 2018 | By Holly Evarts | Image credit: Alexander Gaeta/Columbia Engineering

New York, NY—May 23, 2018—Researchers at Columbia Engineering have demonstrated, for the first time, a chip-based dual-comb spectrometer in the mid-infrared range, that requires no moving parts and can acquire spectra in less than 2 microseconds. The system, which consists of two mutually coherent, low-noise, microresonator-based frequency combs spanning 2600 nm to 4100 nm, could lead to the development of a spectroscopy lab-on-a-chip for real-time sensing on the nanosecond time scale.

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Holly Evarts, Director of Strategic Communications and Media Relations
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About the Study

The study is titled “Silicon-chip-based mid-infrared dual-comb spectroscopy.”
 
Authors are: Mengjie Yu (Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics, Columbia Engineering; School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Cornell University), Yoshitomo Okawachi (department of applied physics and applied mathematics, Columbia Engineering), Austin G. Griffith (School of Applied and Engineering Physics, Cornell University), Nathalie Picque (Max-Planck-Institut fur Quantenoptik; Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat Munchen, Fakultat fur Physik; Institut des Sciences Moleculaires d’Orsay (ISMO), CNRS, Univ. ParisSud, Universite ParisSaclay), Michal Lipson (Department of Electrical Engineering, Columbia Engineering), and Alexander L. Gaeta (department of applied physics and applied mathematics, Columbia Engineering).
 
The study was supported from Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (W31P4Q1510015), the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (FA95501510303), and National Science Foundation (ECS0335765, ECCS1306035). This work was performed in part at the Cornell NanoScale Facility, a member of the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network, which is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) (grant ECS0335765).
 
The authors declare no financial or other conflicts of interest.

“Our results show the broadest optical bandwidth demonstrated for dual-comb spectroscopy on an integrated platform,” said Alexander Gaeta, David M. Rickey Professor of Applied Physics and of Materials Science and senior author of the study, published May 14 in Nature Communications.

Creating a spectroscopic sensing device on a chip that can realize real-time, high-throughput detection of trace molecules has been challenging. A few months ago, teams led by Gaeta and Michal Lipson, Higgins Professor of Electrical Engineering, were the first to miniaturize dual-frequency combs by putting two frequency comb generators on a single millimeter-sized chip. They have been working on broadening the frequency span of the dual combs, and on increasing the resolution of the spectrometer by tuning the lines of the comb.

In this current study, the researchers focused on the mid-infrared (mid-IR) range, which, because its strong molecular absorption is typically 10 to 1,000 times greater than those in the visible or near-infrared, is ideal for detecting trace molecules. The mid-IR range effectively covers the “fingerprint” of many molecules.

The team performed mid-IR dual-comb spectroscopy using two silicon nanophotonic devices as microresonators. Their integrated devices enabled the direct generation of broadband mid-infrared light and fast acquisition speeds for characterizing molecular absorption.

“Our work is a critical advance for chip-based dual-comb spectroscopy for liquid/solid phase studies,” said Mengjie Yu, lead author of the paper and a PhD student in Gaeta’s lab. “Our chip-scale broadband optical system, essentially a photonic lab-on-a-chip, is well-suited for identification of chemical species and could find a wide range of applications in chemistry, biomedicine, material science, and industrial process control.”

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Columbia Engineering
Columbia Engineering, based in New York City, is one of the top engineering schools in the U.S. and one of the oldest in the nation. Also known as The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, the School expands knowledge and advances technology through the pioneering research of its more than 200 faculty, while educating undergraduate and graduate students in a collaborative environment to become leaders informed by a firm foundation in engineering. The School’s faculty are at the center of the University’s cross-disciplinary research, contributing to the Data Science Institute, Earth Institute, Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, Precision Medicine Initiative, and the Columbia Nano Initiative. Guided by its strategic vision, “Columbia Engineering for Humanity,” the School aims to translate ideas into innovations that foster a sustainable, healthy, secure, connected, and creative humanity.