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Start-up unveils user-friendly QCL

02 Nov 2004

A UK venture launches a "plug and play" quantum cascade laser.

A new Scottish start-up is the latest firm to enter the market for quantum cascade lasers (QCLs) - semiconductor emitters of mid-infrared light that were first demonstrated by Bell Labs in the 1990s.

Cascade Technologies of Glasgow has just launched its first product, a "plug and play" QCL system that retails for around GBP 20,000 and is controlled via the USB-port of a laptop computer.

Cascade was founded in January 2003 by Erwan Normand, a French researcher specializing in QCLs, and Richard Cooper, a Scottish industry veteran who has 25 years experience at firms such as Howden Laser. It has received GBP 1.1 million in funding and currently has six employees.

Rather than fabricate the QCL chip itself, Cascade takes raw devices made by Alpes Lasers of Switzerland and then builds a complete easy-to-use system around them. The customer simply selects a laser chip with the desirable wavelength (somewhere in the 4 to 10 µm range).

"Our concept is to take a QCL chip and turn it into a user-friendly device that comes with integrated optics, temperature control and a computer interface," said Cooper, Cascade's operations director. "We are now in the process of arranging our second round of funding and will have a QCL-based gas sensor ready by April."

Cascade is not the first firm to launch a QCL system but Cooper says that the user-friendly nature of their offering sets it apart from others. Laser Components and Sacher Lasertechnik are also marketing QCL systems while Physical Sciences Inc. (PSI) of the US launched gas sensors based on the technology in April 2002.

Aerodyne, US, has also been providing spectroscopic trace gas detectors to research groups in the United States and Europe for the last ten years. Early systems were based on lead salt tunable diode lasers but more recent systems are based on QC lasers.

Oliver Graydon is editor of Optics.org and Opto & Laser Europe magazine.

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