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Local detection of electromagnetic energy transport below the diffraction limit in metal nanoparticle plasmon waveguides


Achieving control of light-material interactions for photonic device applications at nanoscale dimensions will require structures that guide electromagnetic energy with a lateral mode confinement below the diffraction limit of light. This cannot be achieved by using conventional waveguides1 or photonic crystals2. It has been suggested that electromagnetic energy can be guided below the diffraction limit along chains of closely spaced metal nanoparticles3,4 that convert the optical mode into non-radiating surface plasmons5. A variety of methods such as electron beam lithography6 and self-assembly7 have been used to construct metal nanoparticle plasmon waveguides. However, all investigations of the optical properties of these waveguides have so far been confined to collective excitations8,9,10, and direct experimental evidence for energy transport along plasmon waveguides has proved elusive. Here we present observations of electromagnetic energy transport from a localized subwavelength source to a localized detector over distances of about 0.5 μm in plasmon waveguides consisting of closely spaced silver rods. The waveguides are excited by the tip of a near-field scanning optical microscope, and energy transport is probed by using fluorescent nanospheres.

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Figure 1: Far-field extinction spectrum of Ag nanoparticle chains and single particles.
Figure 2: Excitation and detection of energy transport in plasmon waveguides by near-field optical microscopy.
Figure 3: Evidence for energy transport in plasmon waveguides by the width of the intensity of fluorescent nanospheres.

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The authors are grateful to Richard Muller, Paul Maker, and Pierre Echternach of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena for professional help with electron beam lithography. This work was sponsored by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and also partly by the NSF grants ECS0103543, EIA-98-71775 and DMI-02-09678 and the Center for Science and Engineering of Materials at Caltech.

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Correspondence to Stefan A. Maier.

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Maier, S., Kik, P., Atwater, H. et al. Local detection of electromagnetic energy transport below the diffraction limit in metal nanoparticle plasmon waveguides. Nature Mater 2, 229–232 (2003).

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