Imagine that you could detect gases far in the distance or detect fat content in real-time on the spot instead of going through the tedious process by first taking a sample out and then placing it under a microscope in a remote lab. With this new laser one can basically analyze matter "on-the-fly" rather than waiting for complicated, time-consuming analysis that are off-line. The infra-red spectrum cannot be seen with the eye but this area of frequencies contains a lot of valuable information if one could only detect it. Light is increasingly playing a crucial role in diagnosing and monitoring today's major environmental and health issues. The cells that make up a virus or a source of an impurity in food, all have a quite distinctive fingerprint that can be read uniquely by the infra-red light which a sample absorbs. The availability of light sources in the mid-IR are very limited and there is a demand for broadband, high power fibre delivered sources in applications such as hyperspectral imaging, atmospheric sensing, pharmaceutical process analysis and defence.
A new European project aims to fill the void with supercontinuum based technology. NKT Photonics is to develop and commercialise supercontinuum sources that extend to the infra-red spectrum. The project will run over a period of three years, involve a specially chosen consortium and have a total budget of 4 million Euros, of which 2 million Euros has been awarded from the Danish National Advanced Technology Foundation.
Already, NKT Photonics has successfully developed visible supercontinuum sources as a commercial product and this technology platform will be taken to a new level with advanced crystal fiber technology to provide mid-IR light. The project is guided by high profile industrial companies, who have a keen interest in employing the end product of the project into their mid-IR applications. "It is clear from these industrial companies that there is a technological gap that this project will fill," says CEO Jakob Skov, NKT Photonics.