DARPA gives contract for bioweapon detecting laser

Professor Theodore Moustakas of Boston University has been given a $1.5 million, two-year subcontract from the Defense Advances Research Projects Agency to help develop a handheld, electron-beam pumped semiconductor laser with several defense applications.

The laser would be the first to operate within the ultraviolet region of the electromagnetic spectrum. One of the key military purposes is that it could be used to identify biological and chemical substances used in terror attacks. Other applications include non-line-of-sight communication in dense urban areas and point-of-care chemical analysis of blood and other bodily fluids.

The development will include the fabrication of ultraviolet laser materials and component devices, the design of miniature electron guns to pump the laser and the integration of the prototype in a size smaller than one cubic inch.

“We plan to make a laser structure that, when bombarded with an electron beam, produces pairs of electrons and holes (positively charged particles), which recombine and produce the UV light,” Moustakas said. “DARPA chose us because we have produced aluminum gallium nitride alloys in which up to 68 percent of those electron/hole pairs are converted into light, a conversion efficiency of about 1,000 times that of materials produced by other research groups.”

Moustakas is also working on a separate grant from NASA to create a similar laser that will analyze soil chemically on future Mars expeditions.