Far-field imaging of non-fluorescent species with subdiffraction resolution


Super-resolution optical microscopy is providing a new means by which to view as yet unseen details on a nanoscopic scale. Current far-field super-resolution techniques rely on fluorescence as the readout1,2,3,4,5. Here, we demonstrate a scheme for breaking the diffraction limit in far-field imaging of non-fluorescent species by using spatially controlled saturation of electronic absorption. Our method is based on a pump–probe process where a modulated pump field perturbs the charge carrier density in a sample, thus modulating the transmission of a probe field. A doughnut-shaped laser beam is then added to transiently saturate the electronic transition in the periphery of the focal volume, so the induced modulation in the sequential probe pulse only occurs at the focal centre. By raster-scanning the three collinearly aligned beams, high-speed subdiffraction-limited imaging of graphite nanoplatelets is performed. This technique has the potential to enable super-resolution imaging of nanomaterials and non-fluorescent chromophores, which may remain out of reach to fluorescence-based methods.

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Figure 1: Principle of saturated transient absorption microscopy.
Figure 2: Diagram of the saturated transient absorption microscope.
Figure 3: Suppression of the pump–probe signal by saturation of the electronic transition in graphene and graphite nanoplatelets.
Figure 4: Subdiffraction-limited imaging of graphite nanoplatelets.


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This work was supported by National Institutes of Health (grant R21EB015901 to J-X.C.), the National Science Foundation (grant CHE-0847097 to E.O.P.) and the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (grant no. N66001-08-1-2037, Program Managers T. Kenny and T. Akinwande) to X.X. The authors thank Yong Chen and Jack Chung for providing the graphene sample, and Delong Zhang for technical support.

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P.W., M.N.S. and J.-X.C. designed the experiment. P.W. and M.N.S. performed the experiments. P.W. carried out the data analysis. J.M. synthesized the graphite nanoplatelets. E.O.P. provided the spatial light modulator. J.-X.C., C.Y., E.O.P. and X.X. provided overall guidance to the project. All authors discussed the results and contributed to the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Ji-Xin Cheng.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Wang, P., Slipchenko, M., Mitchell, J. et al. Far-field imaging of non-fluorescent species with subdiffraction resolution. Nature Photon 7, 449–453 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/nphoton.2013.97

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