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Pressure-assisted tip-enhanced Raman imaging at a resolution of a few nanometres


Scanning probe microscopy methods1,2 can image samples with extremely high resolutions, opening up a wide range of applications in physics3, chemistry4 and biology5. However, these passive techniques, which trace the sample surface softly, give indirect topographic information. Here, we show an active imaging technique that has the potential to achieve optically a molecular resolution by directly interacting and perturbing the sample molecules. This technique makes use of an external pressure, applied selectively on a nanometric volume of the sample through the apex of a sharp nanotip, to obtain a local distortion of only those molecules that are pressurized. The vibrational frequencies of these molecules are distinctly different from those of unpressurized molecules. By sensing this difference, our active microscopic technique can achieve extremely high resolution. Using an isolated single-walled carbon nanotube and a two-dimensional adenine nanocrystal, we demonstrate a spatial resolution of 4 nm.

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Figure 1: Extremely high spatial resolution in optical microscopy is achieved by sensing the localized pressure applied by a nanosized tip.
Figure 2: Slight local deformation in a SWNT due to tip-applied pressure is sensed by means of Raman spectra.
Figure 3: One-dimensional optical image of a SWNT at extremely high spatial resolution.
Figure 4: Reversible and irreversible Raman intensity responses determine the threshold value of the tip-applied force for plastic deformation.
Figure 5: High spatial resolution for a two-dimensional nanocrystal of adenine.


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The authors would like to thank Y. Inouye (Osaka University, Japan) for fruitful discussions, S. Fujii and F. Futamatsu (Osaka University, Japan) for their valuable help during some of the experiments, and T. Saito (Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, Japan) for supplying the high-quality SWNTs used in the present study. This research was financially supported by the Core Research for Educational Science and Technology (CREST) project of Japan Science and Technology Corporation.

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Correspondence to Taka-aki Yano or Prabhat Verma.

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Yano, Ta., Verma, P., Saito, Y. et al. Pressure-assisted tip-enhanced Raman imaging at a resolution of a few nanometres. Nature Photon 3, 473–477 (2009).

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