Monday, April 16, 2007

New Laser Technique Makes Swift Detection of Anthrax

Again, if someone asks you if physics and physicists actually make any practical contribution to our world, point him/her to this article. Physicists at Texas A&M University and Princeton University have devised a new technique using lasers to detect bioterrorism agents, such as anthrax, in a split second, instead of the current cumbersome and lengthy method.

In the Science paper, Texas A&M and Princeton researchers report on using lasers to detect anthrax in less than a tenth of a second. "Our procedure can work for monitoring anthrax in the mail, but it can also scan the whole atmosphere," said Scully. Currently, anthrax tests require that suspicious substances be cultured in a lab, a time-consuming process.

As important and brilliant this discovery/technique is, for some odd reason, I was more fascinated by two probably trivial aspects of the story here. First, it's the personality of the lead scientist in this - Marlan Scully.

Scully, known in his field as the "quantum cowboy" for his maverick ideas in quantum optics and his sideline of cattle ranching, became interested in the detection of anthrax shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. His son, a commercial airline pilot, was worried about the safety of his passengers so he challenged his father to come up with a way to detect bioterrorism agents in real time.

It sounds like he could be a hoot to hang around with! Just the type of people I enjoy reading about. Secondly, I am always fascinated with some of the imaginative names given to some of these projects or techniques. This one certainly would qualify as one of them.

The researchers call this approach femtosecond adaptive spectroscopic techniques via CARS (FAST-CARS). The research reported in Science represents further refinement of this method, using ultrashort broadband pulses for the first two laser bursts and a longer, tailored narrowband pulse for the third laser probe.

That is just damn brilliant! :)


No comments: