Automatic Locking of Laser Frequency to an Absorption PeakAn electronic system adjusts the frequency of a tunable laser, eventually locking the frequency to a peak in the optical absorption spectrum of a gas (or of a Fabry-Perot cavity that has an absorption peak like that of a gas). This system was developed to enable precise locking of the frequency of a laser used in differential absorption LIDAR measurements of trace atmospheric gases. This system also has great commercial potential as a prototype of means for precise control of frequencies of lasers in future dense wavelength-division-multiplexing optical communications systems. The operation of this system is completely automatic: Unlike in the operation of some prior laser-frequency-locking systems, there is ordinarily no need for a human operator to adjust the frequency manually to an initial value close enough to the peak to enable automatic locking to take over. Instead, this system also automatically performs the initial adjustment. The system (see Figure 1) is based on a concept of (1) initially modulating the laser frequency to sweep it through a spectral range that includes the desired absorption peak, (2) determining the derivative of the absorption peak with respect to the laser frequency for use as an error signal, (3) identifying the desired frequency [at the very top (which is also the middle) of the peak] as the frequency where the derivative goes to zero, and (4) thereafter keeping the frequency within a locking range and adjusting the frequency as needed to keep the derivative (the error signal) as close as possible to zero. More specifically, the system utilizes the fact that in addition to a zero crossing at the top of the absorption peak, the error signal also closely approximates a straight line in the vicinity of the zero crossing (see Figure 2). This vicinity is the locking range because the linearity of the error signal in this range makes it useful as a source of feedback for a proportional + integral + derivative control scheme that constantly adjusts the frequency in an effort to drive the error to zero. When the laser frequency deviates from the midpeak value but remains within the locking range, the magnitude and sign of the error signal indicate the amount of detuning and the control circuitry adjusts the frequency by what it estimates to be the negative of this amount in an effort to bring the error to zero.