Detection of bacterial endospores by means of ultrafast coherent raman spectroscopy



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Texas A&M University


This work is devoted to formulation and development of a laser spectroscopic technique for rapid detection of biohazards, such as Bacillus anthracis spores. Coherent anti-Stokes Raman scattering (CARS) is used as an underlying process for active retrieval of species-specific characteristics of an analyte. Vibrational modes of constituent molecules are Raman-excited by a pair of ultrashort, femtosecond laser pulses, and then probed through inelastic scattering of a third, time-delayed laser field. We first employ the already known time-resolved CARS technique. We apply it to the spectroscopy of easy-to-handle methanol-water mixtures, and then continue building our expertise on solutions of dipicolinic acid (DPA) and its salts, which happen to be marker molecules for bacterial spores. Various acquisition schemes are evaluated, and the preference is given to multi-channel frequency-resolved detection, when the whole CARS spectrum is recorded as a function of the probe pulse delay. We demonstrate a simple detection algorithm that manages to differentiate DPA solution from common interferents. We investigate experimentally the advantages and disadvantages of near-resonant probing of the excited molecular coherence, and finally observe the indicative backscattered CARS signal from DPA and NaDPA powders. The possibility of selective Raman excitation via pulse shaping of the preparation pulses is also demonstrated. The analysis of time-resolved CARS experiments on powders and B. subtilis spores, a harmless surrogate for B. anthracis, facilitates the formulation of a new approach, where we take full advantage of the multi-channel frequency-resolved acquisition and spectrally discriminate the Raman-resonant CARS signal from the background due to other instantaneous four-wave mixing (FWM) processes. Using narrowband probing, we decrease the magnitude of the nonresonant FWM, which is further suppressed by the timing of the laser pulses. The devised technique, referred to as hybrid CARS, leads to a single-shot detection of as few as 104 bacterial spores, bringing CARS spectroscopy to the forefront of potential candidates for real-time biohazard detection. It also gives promise to many other applications of CARS, hindered so far by the presence of the overwhelming nonresonant FWM background, mentioned above.