DARPA Seeking Breakthrough Chemical and Biological Agent Detection Systems

The goal of the new LUSTER program is to create a new class of UV lasers that are more than 300 times smaller than current lasers and 10 times more efficient.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced it has created a new program named LUSTER – the acronym is for Laser UV Sources for Tactical Efficient Raman – and is seeking proposals for compact, efficient, low-cost deep-UV lasers for highly deployable biological and chemical agent detection. "The goal is to create a new class of UV lasers that are more than 300 times smaller than current lasers and 10 times more efficient. The resulting technology could be dropped into current detection systems to save size, weight and power or to create new systems that are smaller and more sensitive," according to a March 4 release posted on the agency's website.

It says Raman spectroscopy uses lasers to measure molecular vibrations in order to identify unknown substances quickly and accurately. Ultraviolet lasers have the optimal wavelength for Raman spectroscopy at stand-off distances, but the U.S. Department of Defense’s current UV-based tactical detection systems are large, expensive, and have limited functionality, hence the search for a way to make detection equipment more readily available in the field. DARPA will host a Proposers' Day Workshop in support of the program on March 18.

"Today's standoff detection systems are so large and heavy that trucks are required to move them," said Dan Green, a DARPA program manager. "LUSTER seeks to develop new laser sources for breakthrough chemical and biological agent detection systems that are compact and light enough to be carried by an individual while being more efficient than today's systems. We also want to take a couple of zeroes off the price tag."

"In addition to detecting chemical and biological agents in the field—or at home to protect against mass terror attacks—UV lasers have many other uses," he added. "The new class of UV lasers envisioned from the LUSTER program is expected to impact a broad range of applications, such as point-of-need medical diagnostics, advanced manufacturing, and compact atomic clocks."

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