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New laser-based tool is so fast it can observe chemical reactions

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Sept. 1 (UPI) — Engineers have developed a new type of infrared spectrometer that is fast enough to observe chemical reactions at high resolutions.

The new technology is 100 times faster than previous spectrometers, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal Communications Physics.

Infrared spectroscopy works by measuring the infrared light that bounces off sample molecules. The molecular components of a sample features unique vibrations. When struck with a laser, molecules interact with light and return unique frequency patterns, or spectra, that can be measured by sensors.

The chemical signatures revealed by infrared spectroscopes can help scientists identify and observe the behavior of different chemical components.

Infrared spectroscopy isn’t just used in the chemistry lab — it has become ubiquitous in a variety of scientific fields, food safety monitoring and bomb making materials detection.

Just a few decades ago, the best spectrometers could measure just one spectra per second. More recently, engineers used technology called dual-comb spectroscopy to record 1 million spectra per second. But to study chemical reactions, scientists needed an even faster spectrometer.

“We developed the world’s fastest infrared spectrometer, which runs at 80 million spectra per second,” lead researcher Takuro Ideguchi said in a news release.

“This method, time-stretch infrared spectroscopy, is about 100 times faster than dual-comb spectroscopy, which had reached an upper speed limit due to issues of sensitivity,” said Ideguchi, an associate professor at the Institute for Photon Science and Technology at the University of Tokyo.

The new tool uses short laser pulses that are stretched thin. When reflected, these stretched laser pulses are easier to analyze, allowing researchers to use a quantum cascade detector, a new sensor capable of processing spectra at record speeds.

“Natural science is based on experimental observations. Therefore, new measurement techniques can open up new scientific fields,” said Ideguchi. “Researchers in many fields can build on what we’ve done here and use our work to enhance their own understanding and powers of observation.”

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