Widely tunable compact terahertz gas lasers

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Science  15 Nov 2019:
Vol. 366, Issue 6467, pp. 856-860
DOI: 10.1126/science.aay8683

Filling the terahertz gap

Compared with other wavelengths, coherent sources of electromagnetic radiation in the terahertz regime are relatively scarce. Despite a number of applications in security imaging, spectroscopy, and chemical analysis, it has been experimentally challenging to produce such light. Chevalier et al. demonstrate an approach involving the excitation of a molecular gas with a quantum cascade laser. They show that they can tune into a broad range of desired wavelengths by carefully selecting the required molecular transition. A compact platform—the size of a shoe box—and widely tunable source of coherent terahertz radiation should find immediate application across a number of fields.

Science, this issue p. 856


The terahertz region of the electromagnetic spectrum has been the least utilized owing to inadequacies of available sources. We introduce a compact, widely frequency-tunable, extremely bright source of terahertz radiation: a gas-phase molecular laser based on rotational population inversions optically pumped by a quantum cascade laser. By identifying the essential parameters that determine the suitability of a molecule for a terahertz laser, almost any rotational transition of almost any molecular gas can be made to lase. Nitrous oxide is used to illustrate the broad tunability over 37 lines spanning 0.251 to 0.955 terahertz, each with kilohertz linewidths. Our analysis shows that laser lines spanning more than 1 terahertz with powers greater than 1 milliwatt are possible from many molecular gases pumped by quantum cascade lasers.

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