Device that exposes chemical threats brings top honors at OSA congress

Friday, Aug 20, 2021
by Scott Lyon

The Optical Society has honored two ECE graduate students for their presentations at the 2021 Optical Sensing and Sensors Congress.

Jie Liu won the student paper award in Optics and Photonics for Sensing the Environment; Michael Soskind was a finalist in the same category. Both students are advised by Gerard Wysocki, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.

Liu developed a spectrometer designed to detect and locate chemical threat agents in complex urban environments. Existing sensors are good at either broad area- or local-detection, but Liu's device combines two modes (extractive point sensing and remote retroreflector-based sensing) into a single system that can do both, even in confounding weather conditions. Using quantum cascade laser frequency comb sources, the device automatically probes mid-infrared light frequencies to identify target chemicals by their signature spectra. It's both mobile and capable of detecting a wide range of gases, making it well suited for use in the field.

Soskind developed a system to measure methane released from oil and natural gas extraction sites — a key source of greenhouse gas emissions. Conventional emission estimation methods have largely under-reported methane concentrations. Soskind optimized a chirped laser dispersion spectroscopy system for use with drones, a configuration that can accurately locate and analyze methane concentrations in the gusty, difficult conditions around natural gas pipelines, compressor-stations or drilling sites.

Liu's paper, “A reconfigurable mid-infrared dual-comb spectrometer for point and remote chemical sensing,” is part of a DARPA-sponsored project under the SIGMA+ program, focused on developing new sensors and networks that would alert authorities to chemical, biological and explosives threats.

Soskind's paper, “UAV-aided Localization and Quantification of Methane,” is part of a project supported by the National Energy Technology Laboratory at the U.S. Department of Energy.