The goal of this award is to construct an arbitrary optical waveform generator that utilizes coherent vibrations and rotations in molecules to produce a broad Raman spectrum of light. This will generate several millions of wavelengths simultaneously, covering the spectral region from infrared, visible to the ultraviolet. Furthermore, the spectrum will be in the continuous wave domain. The intellectual merit of this work is, through the understanding of the complex, nonlinear interactions in the molecular Raman process, to transform the concept into a working device, capable of delivering new research discoveries.
Constructing such a light source has been one of the biggest challenges in optical science since the invention of the laser in 1960. Once constructed, such a device will have important applications in a broad range of areas and will have the potential for a large impact on society: (1) By combining all of the different-colored lasers, flashes of light whose duration is shorter than a femtosecond (a billionth of a millionth of a second) can be created. Such short pulses are necessary to probe and to understand the ultrafast electronic processes that occur on these time scales. With this new understanding, new ultrafast electronic devices may be constructed. (2) By using all these lasers with different colors, a large number of atomic and molecular species can be investigated simultaneously. Such a capability is necessary to better understand the structures of complex molecules, including biological molecules such as proteins. 3) A device that produces millions of lasers could be used to control certain chemical reactions with unprecedented precision. As a result, specific chemical products (such as pharmaceutical drugs) may be synthesized much more efficiently. The research provides human resources training. Graduate students and undergraduate students participate in research that is at the forefront of optical physics and laser sciences. They will acquire skills that are critical for the future high technology workforce.