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The Mini-Raman Lidar System (MRLS) is a portable chemical sensor that combines the spectral fingerprinting of Raman spectroscopy with the principles of solar-blind ultraviolet lidar for short-range, noncontact detection and identification of unknown substances on surfaces. The MRLS has the potential to detect contaminant films several microns thick at distances of meters and bulk quantities of substances at distances of tens of meters. The signal acquisition time is less than 1 min. The device has application to those involved in emergency response, environmental remediation, and military reconnaissance who respond initially at the site of a chemical spill or attack. © 2000 American Institute of Physics.