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  • Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Mid-TECH (Infrared sensing made visible: Combining infrared light sources and upconversion sensors for improved sensitivity in medical applications and gas analysis)

Mid-TECH Report Summary

Project ID: 642661
Funded under: H2020-EU.1.3.1.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Mid-TECH (Infrared sensing made visible: Combining infrared light sources and upconversion sensors for improved sensitivity in medical applications and gas analysis)

Reporting period: 2015-01-01 to 2016-12-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

The Mid-TECH project is an MSCA Innovative Training Network, providing training for 15 Early Stage Researchers (ESRs) working towards a doctoral degree. The ESR group is composed of 4 female and 11 male fellows. The project Consortium comprises 6 academic institutions and 2 companies, and is coordinated by the Technical University of Denmark (DTU). The Mid-TECH programme aims to combine novel mid-infrared (mid-IR) light sources, mid-IR upconversion detection and mid-IR applications.

The mid-IR wavelength range is an emerging and important new research frontier. Its general importance relates to a multitude of mid-IR industrial and biomedical sensor applications. Chemical fingerprints of most complex molecules such as those found in food, human tissue or combustion compounds all have vibrational absorption features in the mid-IR, thus identifiable through mid-IR spectroscopy. Incidentally, also the fundamental absorption bands of gas molecules are located in the mid-IR enabling novel instrumentation for mid-IR gas spectroscopy allowing for measurement of small concentrations. This is relevant for applications like “leak-tests” or remote sensing of greenhouse gases.

The main obstacle for the exploitation of the mid-IR optical range has been a lack of efficient mid-IR light sources and sensitive mid-IR detectors/imaging. In Mid-TECH we have gathered the best European academic and industrial partners to show that in a combined effort, both technological shortcomings can be overcome, paving the way for novel instrumentation for industry and society.

Mid-TECH aims to achieve an ambitious set of objectives both in relation to science and training:

• Train a group of 15 highly skilled ESRs forming a new generation of networked scientists
• Develop and discover new technologies for the mid-IR
• Technology transfer from university to industry
• Promote new innovation and entrepreneurial behaviour
• Demonstrate novel instrumentation for society and industry

In the Mid-TECH programme we deploy the methodology needed for a given mid-IR application, e.g. spectral imaging of cancerous tissue. Instrument designs (measurement principle and specifications) will emerge, including two key elements: a mid-IR light source and a mid-IR detector. From the European academic and industrial scene we have matched specialised “top-notch” partners for each of the 3 research-oriented tasks, i.e. the application, the light source and the detection. This approach has led to the formation of a consortium of partners with excellence in each of the three fields, complementary in skills but all sharing the same common objective.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

Although the Mid-TECH programme is only halfway, a list of publications and conference contributions have already been accomplished by the ESRs. For a comprehensive overview, please refer to the publication list at the Mid-TECH website. Below are listed a few prominent examples of ESR achievements – mostly collaborative:

-Preliminary experiments combining Mid-TECH technologies from University of Exeter, Humboldt University and DTU have been carried out addressing mid-IR characterization of cancer histopathologies. The ESR results encourage continued work on this application through coming secondments. This effort is a good example of the methodology sought in Mid-TECH.

-The joint effort of the ICFO and DTU fellows has led to a first demonstration of pico-second hyperspectral imaging instrumentation in 2-4.5 µm range. The preliminary results are promising and of great scientific interest and will be the subject of a forthcoming conference contribution and a journal publication(s). The results also suggest that femto-second imaging is feasible.

-At the Ferdinand-Braun-Institute a main objective is to develop a tunable semiconductor laser source for upconversion detection and imaging, to be used for single-pass pumping of the upconversion crystal. The laser has been accomplished in the form of a compact state-of-the-art high power MOPA (Master Oscillator Power Amplifier) system, with 4 nm tunability and >5 watts of output power. The system has been successfully tested at DTU in January 2017.

-At DTU an upconversion imaging system for the 5-8 μm wavelength range has been designed using a simple thermal light source (globar) for illumination. The upconversion imaging process takes place inside an AgGaS2 crystal. This set-up has successfully produced upconverted images, and results were presented at Photonics West 2017.

-At University of Lund the focus has been on the implementation of nanosecond mid-infrared polarization spectroscopy in a flame, using upconversion detection. This has been successfully demonstrated, and measurements of methyl absorption peaks have been done in a methane/oxygen flame. Data analysis is still in progress.

Two summer schools have taken place. The first in Berlin focusing on Mid-IR scientific technologies and aiming to provide insights to the newest mid-IR advancements in mid-IR applications, light sources and (upconversion) detection. The second summer school took place in Denmark addressing entrepreneurial aspects including communication of technical ideas to a broader audience.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

In the coming two years there will be an increased focus on applications and collaborations with partner organisations. First, in relation to direct mid-IR characterization of cancer histopathologies – circumventing a time-consuming staining step – we want to test the different Mid-TECH light sources combined with upconversion spectroscopy and imaging. This activity will be on-going, dictated by the Mid-TECH progress. Second, upconversion detection and spectroscopy of gases such as volatile organic compounds in the 10-20 µm range, as well as combustion and environmental gases, will be sought. The two areas of activity highlighted are hugely interesting in their own right and, in addition, they will also serve to demonstrate the broad perspective related to applications in the mid-IR wavelength range.

At the end of this ITN programme, unique optical parametrical oscillators reaching 12 µm will be demonstrated as well as quantum cascade lasers with center wavelengths approaching the 20 µm range. Upconversion detection and imaging will be extended to 18 µm or even 25 µm and, for short pulses, ps and fs upconversion imaging will extend to about 8 µm.

The anticipated mid-IR achievements combined with the training of the 15 ESRs in the cross-disciplinary field of unique mid-IR technologies, applications and commercialization, will provide an important asset for the economic growth of the European Union.

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