Posted: Oct 27, 2010

New laser to bring spectroscopic technique up to speed

(Nanowerk News) Physicist Robert Huber, who leads a Junior Research Group at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) Munich, becomes the latest recipient of one of the coveted Starting Grants awarded by the European Research Council (ERC). The grant is worth 1.2 million Euros over a period of 5 years. The Starting Grants scheme is designed to support the work of outstandingly creative young investigators who are engaged in research at the forefront of their respective fields.
In his ERC project "FDML-Raman", Dr. Robert Huber plans to study ways of extending the practical application of Raman spectroscopy by speeding up rates of data acquisition using a new class of laser. Raman spectroscopy is based on the scattering of laser light by atoms and molecules, and can be used to analyze the chemical composition of complex substances with high sensitivity and in a non-destructive manner. In combination with optical microscopy, the method even makes it possible to determine the spatial distribution of different molecular species in a sample. In its current state of development, Raman spectroscopy can be applied to a broad spectrum of problems. These range from the analysis of the chemical properties of semiconductors, pigments and biological fluids to process control in the chemical industry and the identification of explosives and drugs.
In order to broaden the range of applications accessible to the technique, rates of data acquisition need to be improved significantly. Several approaches have been proposed to achieve this goal but, in most cases, it is not yet possible to obtain undistorted signals (the scattered light) over the spectral range of interest with the desired sensitivity.
The use of the so-called Fourier-Domain Mode-Locked (FDML) laser offers a means to solve the problem. This type of laser was developed by Robert Huber, and its potential applications are the subject of active research in his laboratory at LMU. FDML lasers are currently used primarily for optical coherence tomography in medical imaging. However, they also have great potential in the context of Raman spectroscopy, where they promise to provide a significant improvement in the performance of systems employed for spectroscopy and microscopy. This, in turn, might make it possible to apply the technique in situations where its use is currently impractical. Robert Huber studied physics at LMU Munich, obtaining his doctoral degree in 2002. He went on to carry out research at Frankfurt University and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge (Mass.), before returning to the Faculty of Physics at his alma mater in 2007. There he took up a position at the Chair of Biomolecular Optics as Leader of a Junior Research Group, funded by the award of an Emmy Noether Fellowship from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG). For his distinguished achievements in research, Robert Huber was awarded the Albert Weller Prize in 2003 and the Rudolf Kaiser Prize in 2008.
ERC Starting Grants
The scientific stature of both applicant and project is the sole criterion for the award of an ERC grant. The project must be highly innovative – in other words, risky – but promise to deliver insights of wide-ranging import in case of success. It should also involve a high degree of indisciplinary cooperation. The program was first set up by the EU in 2007.
Source: LMU Munich