Here's how these oscillators work. Laser light is filtered through a crystal, which converts that light into those other wavelengths that researchers need. That light is then reflected off of a series of mirrors, which results in ultra-short bursts of light in a new wavelength. With traditional setups, the output of that converted light is pretty low, but with two tweaks to the system, the Stanford team was able to bump it up. Making the mirrors less reflective -- a counterintuitive move -- and making the light take longer to reflect off of all of those mirrors gave the researchers access to even more wavelengths, which means scientists can get ever more detailed looks at molecules.
This new system is more efficient than others and could be better suited to analyzing the behavior of and detecting molecules. For example, in the future, such a system could potentially be able to scan the air to detect pollutants. And because this system isn't as sensitive to movement, it stands to be useful outside of the lab. "You talk with people who have worked with this technology for the past 50 years and they are very skeptical about its real-life applications because they think of these resonators as a very high-finesse arrangement that is hard to align and requires a lot of upkeep," Alireza Marandi, one of the researchers on the project, said in a statement. "But in this regime of operation these requirements are super relaxed, and the source is super reliable and doesn't need the extensive care required by standard systems." Marc Jankowski, another researcher on the team, said, "We've worked on these sources for years and now we've gotten some clues that will really help bring them out of the lab and into the world."
The work was recently published in Physical Review Letters.