The external-cavity quantum cascade laser (EC-QCL) system is based on an optical configuration of the Littrow type. It is a room-temperature, continuous- wave, widely tunable, mode-hop-free, mid-infrared, EC-QCL spectroscopic source. It has a single-mode tuning range of 155 cm-1 (≈8% of the center wavelength) with a maximum power of 11.1 mW and 182 cm-1 (≈15% of the center wavelength), and a maximum power of 50 mW as demonstrated for 5.3 micron and 8.4 micron ECQCLs, respectively. This technology is particularly suitable for high-resolution spectroscopic applications, multi-species trace-gas detection, and spectroscopic measurements of broadband absorbers.

Wavelength tuning of EC-QCL spectroscopic source can be implemented by varying three independent parameters of the laser: (1) the optical length of the gain medium (which, in this case, is equivalent to QCL injection current modulation), (2) the length of the EC (which can be independently varied in the Rice EC-QCL setup), and (3) the angle of beam incidence at the diffraction grating (frequency tuning related directly to angular dispersion of the grating). All three mechanisms of frequency tuning have been demonstrated and are required to obtain a true mode-hop-free laser frequency tuning.

The precise frequency tuning characteristics of the EC-QCL output have been characterized using a variety of diagnostic tools available at Rice University (e.g., a monochromator, FTIR spectrometer, and a Fabry-Perot spectrometer). Spectroscopic results were compared with available databases (such as HITRAN, PNNL, EPA, and NIST). These enable precision verification of complete spectral parameters of the EC-QCL, such as wavelength, tuning range, tuning characteristics, and line width.

The output power of the EC-QCL is determined by the performance of the QC laser chip, its operating conditions, and parameters of the QC laser cavity such as mirror reflectivity or intracavity losses. In order to maximize the output power, an analysis and optimization of the EC laser parameters has been performed. The parameters of the beam emitted from the gain medium, such as divergence angle, beam profile, and astigmatism, have been investigated. The gain medium has been fully characterized before and after each stage of modification. The main modification steps are coating one facet of the gain chip with a high reflectivity mirror and the other facet with an anti-reflection layer. Then the chip is mounted in the ECQCL. The optomechanical design has been reviewed and improved to provide for precise collimation of the strongly divergent beam of the QCL and the tuning diffraction grating.

This work was done by Gerard Wysocki, Robert F. Curl, and Frank K. Tittel of Rice University for Johnson Space Center. For more information, download the Technical Support Package (free white paper) at under the Physical Sciences category.

In accordance with Public Law 96-517, the contractor has elected to retain title to this invention. Inquiries concerning rights for its commercial use should be addressed to:

Rice University
6100 Main St.
Houston, TX 77005

Refer to MSC-24486-1, volume and number of this NASA Tech Briefs issue, and the page number.

Photonics Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the May, 2010 issue of Photonics Tech Briefs Magazine.

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