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Observing the localization of light in space and time by ultrafast second-harmonic microscopy


Multiple coherent scattering and the constructive interference of certain scattering paths form the common scheme of several remarkable localization phenomena of classical and quantum waves in randomly disordered media1. Prominent examples are electron transport in disordered conductors2,3, the localization of excitons in semiconductor nanostructures4,5, surface plasmon polaritons at rough metallic films6,7 or light in disordered dielectrics8,9,10,11 and amplifying media1,12,13,14. However, direct observation of the fundamental spatiotemporal dynamics of the localization process remains challenging15. This holds true, in particular, for the localization of light occurring on exceedingly short femtosecond timescales and nanometre length scales. Here, we combine second harmonic microscopy with few-cycle time resolution to probe the spatiotemporal localization of light waves in a random dielectric medium. We find lifetimes of the photon modes of several femtoseconds and a broad distribution of the local optical density of states, revealing central hallmarks of the localization of light.

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Figure 1: Spatiotemporal localization of light in a ZnO nanoneedle array.
Figure 2: Spatial intensity distribution of the second-harmonic emission.
Figure 3: IFRAC traces.
Figure 4: Simulated Fourier transforms of IFRAC traces and reconstructed local electric fields.
Figure 5: Numerical solutions of Maxwell's equations for light localization inside a randomly distributed array of dielectric cylinders.


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This research was supported by the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) within the ‘Nanoelectronics’ programme. The authors acknowledge support in Germany by the DFG (priority programme ‘Ultrafast nanooptics’, SPP 1391) and by the Korea Foundation for International Cooperation of Science & Technology (Global Research Laboratory project K20815000003). Support in Japan through a Grant-in-Aid for Young Scientists (A) from MEXT and a research grant (Basic Research) from The TEPCO Memorial Foundation is also acknowledged.

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C.L., E.R. and M.O. conceived the experiment. M.M. and S.S. carried out the measurements and analysed the data, together with M.S. and C.L. The samples were fabricated by K.K. and T.Y. FDTD simulations were performed by D.L. The manuscript was prepared by M.M., M.S., D.L., E.R. and C.L. All authors contributed to finalizing the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Christoph Lienau.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Mascheck, M., Schmidt, S., Silies, M. et al. Observing the localization of light in space and time by ultrafast second-harmonic microscopy. Nature Photon 6, 293–298 (2012).

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