The compelling need for standoff detection of hazardous gases and vapor indicators of explosives has motivated the development of a remotely pumped, high-gain air laser that produces lasing in the backward direction and can sample the air as the beam returns. We demonstrate that high gain can be achieved in the near-infrared region by pumping with a focused ultraviolet laser. The pumping mechanism is simultaneous resonant two-photon dissociation of molecular oxygen and resonant two-photon pumping of the atomic oxygen fragments. The high gain from the millimeter-length focal zone leads to equally strong lasing in the forward and backward directions. Further backward amplification is achieved with the use of earlier laser spark dissociation. Low-divergence backward air lasing provides possibilities for remote detection.
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