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Nano polarimetry: enhanced AFM-NSOM triple-mode polarimeter tip


A novel application of a combined and enhanced NSOM-AFM tip-photodetector system resulted in a nanoscale Polarimeter, generated by four different holes, each sharing a different shape, and enabling that the four photonic readouts forming the tip will be the four Stokes coefficients, this in order to place the polarization state in the Poincare sphere. The new system has been built on standard Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) cantilever, in order to serve as a triple-mode scanning system, sharing complementary scanning topography, optical data analysis and polarization states. This new device, which has been designed and simulated using Comsol Multi-Physics software package, consists in a Platinum-Silicon drilled conical photodetector, sharing subwavelength apertures, and has been processed using advanced nanotechnology tools on a commercial silicon cantilever. After a comparison study of drilled versus filled tips advantages, and of several optics phenomena such as interferences, the article presents the added value of multiple-apertures scanning tip for nano-polarimetry.


Surface scanning background and needs

With the progress in nanotechnology and materials analysis, the investigation in surface scanning domain becomes more complex and challenging. If in the past, one scanning approach was good enough to evaluate the behavior of particles on a sample’s surface, today it appears that combining several techniques became a “must” and not anymore a “nice-to-have” useful tool. Across the last decades, the core methods were developed separately: The Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) as the core method of Scanning Probe Microscopy (SPM) for nanoscale characterization of surface topography and morphology, and the Near Field Scanning Optical Microscopy (NSOM), as a sub-diffractive optical characterization method. One can intuitively understand that these two core methods can serve as complementary analyses in a case study of characterizing fluorescence or electroluminescence of nanoscale structures. Since it was discovered few decades ago1. NSOM remains one of the optics most challenging domains. These complementary methods are widely used for nanoscale study and characterization of new nanomaterial components2, biological objects3, plasmonics probing4, differential NSOM5, and more. They have usually used separately6 or additionally7. If the market is large, still there are less than twenty main worldwide key players/manufacturers in this Scanning-Probing market8, where some of them are Key Players in AFM9 and NSOM10 separated technologies. Since there is a constant growing need to conduct advanced research on biological and non-biological material, the need for smart innovative solutions conducted manufacturers to seek for new kind of equipment, integrating leading technological features and well equipped microscopes. In our article we present the added values of a combined device enabling a triple-mode usage (topography, optical, and polarization) of both AFM and NSOM measurements, when collecting the reflected light, directly from the scanned surface while having a more efficient light collection process. Such an analysis may serve as a good forecast of expected behavior and accuracy in measurements.

AFM-NSOM dual-mode concept

Before dealing later on with the proposed triple-mode Nano-Polarimeter (AFM, NSOM, and Stokes), combining in one device the capability to collect multiple data in parallel: (1) mechanical topography (AFM), (2) electro-optical info (NSOM), and (3) polarization states (i.e. four apertures), we may progress step-by-step, and first present the combined approach of AFM and NSOM, which have progressed a lot in parallel since the last decades. As a stand-alone analysis, each one of these well-known methods presents solid data analysis advantages. The design and the simulation of new tips towards fabrication11, as well as the manufacturing process itself of new tips using new processed methods12,13, has largely progressed. With time, the idea of combining several methods was developed and studied, such as the organic light-emitting devices (OLEDs) with micro-machined silicon cantilevers14. In our specific case, the idea of combining AFM and NSOM measurement capabilities, into one dual-mode based on silicon tip, is quite unique and presents several advantages and features: dual-mode in one tip, low-cost starting material (standard commercial AFM tip), easy six-steps-based process, energetic efficiency combined with multi-functionality, accurate and direct light acquisition from the sample surface itself, and of course a good SNR (Signal to Noise Ratio). The concept of the improved system is presented in Fig. 1 with two separated configurations: Filled tip-photodetector (Fig. 1a,b), and drilled-tip-photodetector (Fig. 1c,d). In the second configuration, the truncated photo-detector is placed instead the regular silicon tip, at the end of the cantilever (Fig. 1c).

Figure 1

Schematic representation of the AFM-NSOM dual-mode proposed system. (a) Concept of the AFM-NSOM coupled device without aperture. (b) Concept of the processed tip structure and photo-current generation without aperture. (c) Concept of the AFM-NSOM coupled device with sub-wavelength aperture. (d) Concept of the processed tip structure and photo-current generation with sub-wavelength aperture.

Filled vs. drilled tip-photodetector

As presented in previous publication15, there is a clear advantage in drilled photodetector, since it enables a direct reading from the surface reflection. In this approach, the first advantage is the light collection process, which will be directly performed from the surface of the sample. Some lock-in amplifier can be added to detect the small current signals (in the pA range). As mentioned above, the main advantages are related to the capability of our proposed NSOM-AFM dual mode system to enable both multi-functionality in one device, and also to have increased energetic collection efficiency (due to the fact that reflected light is directly converted to intensity readout at the tip and does not have to be coupled and guided through the collection fiber as done in the case of conventional NSOM system).

Simulation method and numerical results

Finite elements method and sensor structure

In order to perform a complete and accurate numerical study of the proposed device, the platform of Comsol Multi-Physics software package16 was used. This platform’s approach is based on the Finite Elements Method (FEM)17,18. The combined and enhanced NSOM-AFM tip-photodetector system, which we propose, consists of a silicon Schottky photo diode sharing a sub-wavelength aperture at the top of the tip19. In such a way, a nanoscale electro-optical sensor, placed on a commercial AFM cantilever’s tip, would enable (1) the collection of the topography (AFM), (2) the collection of the optical data (NSOM), and later on the collection of the four Stokes Criteria (Polarization) when drilling four apertures at its top, creating a triple-mode measurement system, for nano-polarimetry. In the past, electrical and optical responses, were studied and optimized while scanning a laser beam, and high resolution of order of the detector’s aperture was obtained19. Since this device structure is quite complex and challenging, in particular in the nanoscale range, the tip-photodetector was first simulated separately, and then combined to simulated standard silicon-based cantilever. As shown below in Figs. 2 and 3, the nano-polarimeter shares a 3D structure of a truncated conical-shaped photodetector device. With a height of 1.6 μm, a top radius of 75 nm (at this stage), and a bottom radius determined by the silicon plane cutting slope, equal to 57° which gives 1 μm for the corresponding height, the device presents several challenges. One of them is the mesh complexity, and therefore the corresponding simulation run time (the more complex the web of elements, the longer the run time). When compared to the commercial tip, sharing a height of 16 μm, the height considered here for simulation was in the range of 1/10 of the real AFM silicon tip’s height.

Figure 2

Comsol structure and mesh simulation results of the tip-photodetector. Its main parameters are: Height of 1.6 µm, top diameter of 150 nm, and bottom radius less than 1 µm: (a) simulated regular mesh used for external contacts. (b) Simulated accurate mesh used for upper inside aperture and zoom-in of the aperture, sharing a diameter of 150 nm only less than the visible wavelength, and of the internal drilled cylinder. (c) Zoom-out.

Figure 3

Comsol electrical simulation results of the tip drilled photo-detector at different views. (a) Side opaque view. (b) Side transparent view. (c) Zoom-in of the top mesh. (d) Top view.

Set-up and parameters: concerns and considerations

The initial set-up for a representative simulation of the reflected light from a surface is presented in Fig. 4. At this stage of the preliminary simulations, no photodetector is added, and the light is directly reflected and captured from the surface. Comsol Multi-Physics Software Package enables to create the simulation inside a virtual box, which serves as the medium of the measurements. For convenience and much more rapid simulations, the box itself was placed in different angles instead of the beam. Of course, there is no limitation to change the angle of the beam on a horizontal surface.

Figure 4

Comsol simulation of the incident and reflected illumination beams interacting with the scanned surface.

Stepping a leap ahead, the aim of the next following studies was to establish a forecast of the optimized parameters to be used during the scanning of a surface when an incident illumination is reflected with a specific angle, and captured by a photodetector. The difference in the measured photocurrents ΔI is presented as a function of several parameters, such as:

  • α—the illumination incidence and reflection angle,

  • a—the height of the photodetector and the scanned surface (contact or proximity mode),

  • λ—the wavelength of the illumination,

  • ϕ—The work function of the photodetector external layer, and more.

The chosen parameters are summarized in Table 1 below. In Fig. 5, the representative simulation of the reflected light, directly captured from the surface in the photodetector, is presenting the measured photocurrent for an angle of 45°.

Table 1 Parameters used in the simulations.
Figure 5

Graph of the measured photocurrent as a function of the scanning distance d. As expected, the maximum value is obtained at x = 0, center of the incident illumination.

Photo-current as a function of the illumination angle

As presented in the two following figures, the next step was to check the influence of the angle of the illumination beam and to identify the optimized one. Figure 6 presents the different angle positions when Fig. 7 presents the corresponding photocurrents.

Figure 6

Series of scanning simulations are presenting, when the illumination incident beam angle is varying by steps of 15°, respectively. (a) 45°. (b) 60°. (c) 75°. Again, for simulation purpose only, it was much easier to change the angle of the medium box, instead of the incident beam.

Figure 7

Simulated photocurrents as a function of α, the illumination incident beam angle.

Measured photocurrent as a function of the distance from the surface

Since the new NSOM-AFM photo-detection will be used to scan the surface of materials, it was important to evaluate the optimized distance a of the tip from the surface. Series of simulations were performed when varying the distance from 5 nm (almost contact mode) till 50 nm (proximity mode). Two devices were tried and compared, in order to assure the dual-mode existence of AFM and of NSOM capabilities: First, the surface scanning was performed using a filled tip-photodetector (Fig. 8)—e.g. no open cylinder inside the tip as shown in Fig. 1a,b—as a regular AFM tip. In other words, in this case, the check was of the answer of a regular Schottky diode. Then the NSOM mode was checked (Fig. 9), when this time the photodetector, sharing the same dimensions of previous used one, was drilled, as presented in Fig. 1c,d. It was clearly observed that if for regular filled device, the curves are continuous, for the truncated one, the curves present discrete steps. Such steps in current can definitely be interpreted by the amounts of absorbed photocurrent inside the cylinder of the truncated device, but this time with constructive and destructive interferences, as well observed in Fig. 10. Finally, it is important to clarify that for convenience purpose of user friendly simulations, some assumptions were taken in consideration: If the photodetector structures were built in 3D, as shown in the top-left inserts of Figs. 8 and 9, the electro-optical simulations themselves were performed in 2D, as shown in the curves of Figs. 8 and 9.

Figure 8

Measured photocurrents for several distances a between the aperture of the photodetector and the scanned surface for filled device. In this case, a filled device was simulated, and the curves are continuous, with small steps of constructive and destructive inferences, mainly in the curve of a = 50 nm. Illumination incident beam angle α is 45°.

Figure 9

Measured photocurrents for several distances a between the aperture of the photodetector and the scanned surface for drilled device. In this case, a drilled device was simulated, and the curves are continuous, with accentuated steps of constructive and destructive inferences in all the curves, i.e. for all the distances. Illumination incident beam angle α is 45°. Chosen representative radius of the drilled aperture is 35 nm.

Figure 10

Drilled photodetector scanning the surface in proximity mode. The insert on the right side presents a zoom-out of the photons inside the drilled part of the photodetector. The illumination incident beam angle α is 45°.

Measured photocurrent as a function of the aperture diameter

In order to better identify the optimal aperture diameter for such a scanning photodetector, series of simulations have been performed when varying the aperture diameter from 0 nm (e.g. filled device) to 150 nm (wavelength limit), by steps of 30 nm, as shown in Fig. 11. The simulation of the measured photocurrent as a function of the scanning distance d, and of the aperture radius Rcylinder is presented in Fig. 12. Based on different apertures (Fig. 11), the measured photocurrent curves present clear steps (Fig. 12) as a function of the radius. Except one curve, representing a photodetector sharing a radius of 0 nm (e.g. filled Schottky diode), all the other curves present the step-function phenomena. This can be explained by some diffraction and perhaps interference phenomena of the wave functions entering an aperture smaller than the wavelength. In Fig. 12, one can assume that the photocurrent values decrease with the increase of the aperture radii, since there is less silicon for light absorption, and since destructive interferences increase with the drilled aperture. In Fig. 13, one can assume that the photocurrent values decrease with the increasing wavelength, since we are working with sub-wavelength apertures. The higher is the wavelength, the smaller remains the aperture.

Figure 11

Schematics of series of drilled scanning photodetectors sharing increasing aperture diameters, varying from 0 to 150 nm, by steps of 30 nm.

Figure 12

Measured photocurrent as a function of the distance d, and for several aperture radii varying between 0 and 75 nm. The distance \(a\) is 5 nm, and the angle \(\alpha \) is 45°. All other parameters are presented in Table 1.

Figure 13

Measured photocurrent as function of the distance d, presented for several wavelengths between 500 and 600 nm. The distance \(a\) is 5 nm, and the angle \(\alpha \) is 45°. Chosen representative radius of the drilled aperture is 35 nm. All other parameters are presented in Table 1.

Measured photocurrent as a function of the incident wavelength

Another necessary study was to check the influence of the incident wavelength on the measured photocurrent. For this purpose, simulations ran series of wavelengths, in a range of 500–600 nm (Fig. 13). The lower is the wavelength the higher is the measured photocurrent. In this experiment, the distance \(\text{a}\) from the surface is varying from 5 to 50 nm, and the angle \(\mathrm{\alpha }\) of the beam is 45°. The surface scanning is performed on a distance d of 1 µm.

Stokes criteria in polarimeter tip

Multiple-apertures tip rationale

Moving forward with the drilled tip idea, an interesting and novel application to study would be to simultaneously generate four different holes, each sharing a different shape: one oval in X (s state polarizing), one in Y (p state polarizing) etc. such that the four photonic readouts forming the tip will be the four Stokes coefficients, in order to place the polarization state in the Poincare sphere. In such a way we can realize a Polarimeter on the tip! Since there are NSOM tips which are sensitive to polarization, but they do not perform any polarimetry measurement, we can do it with four different types of holes.

Stokes coefficients

The Stokes parameters are a set of values describing the polarization state of an electromagnetic radiation. Defined a long time ago by George Gabriel Stokes20,21, they represent the mathematically convenient alternative to the more common description of incoherent or partially polarized radiation in terms of its total intensity (I), (fractional) degree of polarization (p), and the shape parameters of the polarization ellipse. The effect of an optical system on the polarization of light can be determined by constructing the Stokes vector for the input light and applying Mueller calculus, to obtain the Stokes vector of the light leaving the system. The original Stokes paper was discovered independently by Perrin22 and by Chandrasekhar23, who named it as the Stokes parameters. The relationship of these Stokes parameters S0, S1, S2, S3 to the intensity and the polarization ellipse parameters is presented in below equations:

$${S}_{1}=Ipcos2\psi cos2\chi $$
$${S}_{2}=Ipsin2\psi cos2\chi $$
$${S}_{3}=Ipsin2\chi $$

where \(Ip\), \(2\psi \) and \(2\chi \) are the spherical coordinates of the three-dimensional vector of cartesian coordinates (\({S}_{1}, {S}_{2}, {S}_{3}\)). \(I\) is the total intensity of the beam, and \(p\) is the degree of polarization, constrained by \(0\le p\le 1\). The factor of two before \(\psi \) represents the fact that any polarization ellipse is indistinguishable from one rotated by 180°, while the factor of two before \(\chi \) indicates that an ellipse is indistinguishable from one with the semi-axis lengths swapped accompanied by a 90° rotation. The phase information of the polarized light is not recorded in the Stokes parameters. The four Stokes parameters are sometimes denoted I, Q, U and V, respectively.

Scanning tip for nano-polarimetry

In order to measure the exact position of a polarization state on the Poincare sphere, one needs estimate the four Stokes parameters. Those parameters are defined as follows:

$$ S_{0} = P_{{0^{ \circ } }} + P_{{90^{ \circ } }} $$
$$ S_{1} = P_{{0^{ \circ } }} - P_{{90^{ \circ } }} $$
$$ S_{2} = P_{{ + 45^{ \circ } }} + P_{{ - 45^{ \circ } }} $$
$$ S_{3} = P_{{ + 45^{ \circ } ;\lambda /4}} - P_{{ - 45^{ \circ } ;\lambda /4}} $$

While the degree of polarization (DOP) can be computed out of the 4 Stokes parameters as:


where \(P_{{0^{ \circ } }}\) and \(P_{{90^{ \circ } }}\) are the powers measured after linear horizontal and vertical polarizers respectively, \(P_{{ + 45^{ \circ } }}\) and \(P_{{ - 45^{ \circ } }}\) are the powers measured after linear \(+ 45^{ \circ }\) and \(- 45^{ \circ }\) polarizers respectively and \(P_{{ + 45^{ \circ } ;\lambda /4}}\) and \(P_{{ - 45^{ \circ } ;\lambda /4}}\) are the powers measured after \(\lambda /4\) retarder and linear polarizers at \(+ 45^{ \circ }\) and \(- 45^{ \circ }\), respectively. \(\lambda\) is the optical wavelength. The seven measurements are related to each other and actually it is enough to measure only four measurements: \(P_{{0^{ \circ } }}\), \(P_{{90^{ \circ } }}\), \(P_{{ + 45^{ \circ } }}\) and \(P_{{ + 45^{ \circ } ;\lambda /4}}\) from which the four Stokes parameters can extracted as:

$$ S_{0} = P_{{0^{ \circ } }} + P_{{90^{ \circ } }} $$
$$ S_{1} = P_{{0^{ \circ } }} - P_{{90^{ \circ } }} $$
$$ S_{2} = P_{{ + 45^{ \circ } }} + P_{{ - 45^{ \circ } }} = {2}P_{{ + 45^{ \circ } }} - S_{0} $$
$$ S_{3} = P_{{ + 45^{ \circ } ;\lambda /4}} - P_{{ - 45^{ \circ } ;\lambda /4}} = 2P_{{ + 45^{ \circ } ;\lambda /4}} - S_{0} $$

Experimental realizations

The four measurements expressed above, and which are required in order to extract the polarization state and to allocate the position of the polarization state on the Poincare sphere, can be measured in two possible configurations. One main configuration involves measuring the four parameters with the scanning nano tip while integrating into it the required components as depicted in Fig. 14a:

  • \(P_{{0^{ \circ } }}\), \(P_{{90^{ \circ } }}\) and \(P_{{ + 45^{ \circ } }}\) are realized by generating oval slits at the end of the tip. The tip is coated with metallic coating and by generating three different oval slits at \(0^{ \circ }\), \(90^{ \circ }\) and \(+ 45^{ \circ }\) the three polarizers are achieved. The oval slits have one narrow dimension which is about \(\lambda /10\) and one long dimension which is above one \(\lambda\).

  • \(P_{{ + 45^{ \circ } ;\lambda /4}}\) can be realized by putting Yttrium Orthovanadate YVO4 (birefringent material) on the tip while the material is having sufficient width to realize \(\lambda /4\) retarder (given its birefringence the required width will be about 2.5 \(\lambda\)). Later on, the signal being collected from the fiber is passed through a polarized at \(+ 45^{ \circ }\).

Figure 14

Experimental configurations. (a) First configuration of the four Stokes parameters measurement. (b) Second configuration based upon coating of periodic layers of birefringent material.

All the four parameters are realized by properly fabricating the scanning tip and properly analyzing the collected intensities at the four detectors positioned on the other side of the scanning fiber.

Another proposed configuration for realizing the measurement includes coating of periodic layers of birefringent material on the edge of the scanning tip. Such coating could realize polarizer as well as \(\lambda /4\) waveplate. The proposed configuration is seen in Fig. 14b. The coating could be obtained by putting several layers of YVO4 coated in the right crystal axes in respect to the axes of the incident light. One possible way of computing the structures of such layers could be by using Rouard’s method24.

The method is based on sectioning the grating into a set of thin layers, each treated as a layer with fixed index of refraction. Making use of Fresnel reflection and transmission coefficients enables the computation of a transfer matrix for each layer. For example, for the k’th layer, this matrix will have the form:

$$\left[\begin{array}{c}{R}_{k}\\ {S}_{k}\end{array}\right]=\frac{1}{{t}_{k}}\left[\begin{array}{cc}\mathrm{exp}(i{\varphi }_{k})& {r}_{k}\mathrm{exp}(i{\varphi }_{k})\\ {r}_{k}\mathrm{exp}(-i{\varphi }_{k})& \mathrm{exp}(-i{\varphi }_{k})\end{array}\right]\left[\begin{array}{c}{R}_{k+1}\\ {S}_{k+1}\end{array}\right]$$

with Rk and Sk being the forward and backward traveling fields respectively. rk and tk are the Fresnel reflection and transmission coefficients which satisfy:


nk and nk+1 are the refraction indexes in two sequential layers of the Bragg structure. As shown in Fig. 14b the Bragg structure has axial periodicity of two materials with different refraction indexes. Those two refraction indexes are denoted as nk and nk+1. The phase φk represents the phase shift in the k’th section:

$${\varphi }_{k}=\frac{2{\pi n}_{k}}{\lambda }\delta {z}_{k}$$

where δzk is the width of the section:

$$\delta {z}_{k}=\frac{\lambda }{2\left({n}_{k}+{n}_{k+1}\right)}$$

Multiplying all matrices yields the transfer matrix of the whole structure.

For instance, in the simulation of Fig. 15 we used 20 layers of YVO4. At wavelength of 630 nm this material has refraction indexes of: no = 1.9929 and ne = 2.2154. This means that the overall width of the proposed Bragg filter is:

$$ 20 \times 2 \times \delta z_{k} = 20 \times 2 \times {\lambda \mathord{\left/ {\vphantom {\lambda {2(n_{o} + n_{e} )}}} \right. \kern-\nulldelimiterspace} {2(n_{o} + n_{e} )}}\;3\;\mu m $$
Figure 15

Simulation of a polarizer realized in multi payer Bragg structure deposited on the proposed tip.

Thus, as seen in the figure, one polarization at wavelength of 630 nm is back reflected almost completely while the second will not see the periodic Bragg structure of the layers and will be transmitted through the generated structure. Thus, the simulation validates a realization of an optical polarizer that transmits only the horizontal polarization and back reflects the vertical polarization. The proposed configuration is seen in Fig. 14b. The bright blue is a birefringent material and the white blocks are non-birefringent material. Thus, as in the case of Fig. 14a the realization includes four channels with four detectors positioned as part of the proposed tip. However, in contrast to Fig. 14a no oval sub wavelength holes are needed. The three upper channels are the three polarizers of at 0°, 90° and + 45° while they are built as Bragg gratings while the vertical axis in which the Bragg is realized and where the polarizing effect occurs (the vertical axes is back reflected) is rotated at 0°, 90° and + 45° in respect to the vertical axis. The 4th channel has the Bragg based polarizer (the vertical axis of the schematic sketch is rotated at + 45°) while before that a birefringent material realizing \(\lambda /4\) waveplate is deposited on the edge of the tip. This \(\lambda /4\) wave plate is realized by deposing a birefringent material with width of:

$$\delta z=\frac{\lambda }{4\left({n}_{o}-{n}_{e}\right)}$$

which is approximately 0.708 μm for wavelength of 630 nm.

COMSOL architecture and design

In order to implement the four holes on the top of the tip, it was first necessary to design the structure of the nanoscale polarimeter, as well as the mesh of its different parts. Using again the Finite Elements Method (FEM), 2D and 3D silicon truncated-shaped conical photodetector has been designed, sharing subwavelength pin hole apertures. Then, at the top of the cone, four different shapes, round and ovals, have been selected to serve as the four photonic readouts, as presented in Fig. 16.

Figure 16

Schematic representations of the Polarimeter multiple-apertures proposed system. (a) Side view of the structure with the four apertures. (b) Top view of the structure with the four apertures. (c) Top view of the mesh structure with the four apertures using low density of finite elements. (d) Top view of the mesh structure with the four apertures using high density of finite elements. (e) Side view of the Polarimeter structure with the four apertures inside a simulation box. (f) Top view of the Polarimeter structure with the four apertures inside a simulation box.

The necessity for an accurate mesh of finite elements is presented, when the density of the finite elements is varying from standard parts (Fig. 16c) to extra-fine parts (Fig. 16d). Since there is a need for accurate simulations, special boxes have been created (Fig. 16e,f).

Preliminary experimental validation

Fabrication of tip-photodetectors

In order to show preliminary experimental validation, we have fabricated an AFM-NSOM combined tip. We took a passive commercial silicon AFM tip which we transformed into an active photodetector at its top, such that the photonic readout could be provided directly. One of the main advantages of this AFM-NSOM dual-mode photodetector concept, is the fact that the fabrication process is quite simple, short (few hours overall), and starts from a commercial tip. The six-step rapid process has been largely presented in the past15, when starting from standard commercial (FESP-V2 model from Bruker)25 AFM silicon-based tips. Moreover, additional studies of such tip-photodetector have been presented as well26. The profile and the dimensions of the commercial cantilever and of the commercial tip are respectively presented in Fig. 17a–c.

Figure 17

Presentation of selected SEM pictures of the AFM cantilever commercial starting material and of some of the fabrication steps towards its transformation to an active photodetector. (a) Upside view of the tip shape with an insert of the down side view of the cantilever and of the tip. (b) Tip height and basis. (c) Tip’s Top view at Platinum pre-deposition step.

In Fig. 18 we show now the next three fabrication steps, after processing them with a Focused Ion Beam (FIB) system: the ablation of the tip top (Fig. 18a), the Platinum deposition needed to generate the conductance (Fig. 18b), and the drilling of the cone (Fig. 18c,d). These three steps were all processed using the Field Electron and Ion company (FEI) Helios 600 FIB system. Several important considerations came up in the choice of this specific equipment: First, its main advantage remains its dual-beam component, enabling combined Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) and FIB technologies, in addition to large diversity in gas chemistries, detectors, and manipulators. The second reason is more related to ions’ type used in the process. In fact, there are two main types of ions used in such a FIB: Ga+ ions and He ions. For this specific drilling process, it appears that the He ions beam is not strong enough to enable a well-done truncated tip, and the Ga+ ions become necessary. On the other hand, there is a concern when using Ga+ ions, since they are capable to cause a significant degradation of the initial silicon crystalline structure, and as a consequence, to affect the electro-optic measurements. Since the Ga+ ions are implanted into the Silicon structure during the FIB processing part, and since they theoretically can be be located in the critical area where there is a need to detect a photo current, they may influence the Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR). This concern is reinforced when compared to the implantation process for regular ions, there is no annealing step or any thermal post-recovery process after the drilling stage. In order to assure the quality of the electrode and of the Schottky contact, several checks were performed, and the parts were found functional.

Figure 18

SEM pictures of the tip after drilling and platinum deposition needed to obtain conductance of the fabricated photo detector. (a) Tip after FIB ablation. The tip was cut with a Ga+ ion beam current of 2.7 nA, accelerated by a voltage of 2 kV fixed on the FIB device. (b) Tip after platinum deposition. The platinum, coming from the vapor precursor, was deposited by the Ga+ ion beam on the top of the probe. (c) Upside view of a truncated tip with the layers’ thicknesses. The depth of the drilling was 400 nm through the platinum layer, and a conical hole was obtained. (d) Upside view of a truncated tip with the internal diameters of 117 nm and 121 nm, which approximately correspond to radii of 60 nm, as presented in Fig. 12.

Non-altered AFM spatial high resolution

It is well known that the high spatial resolution of the atomic force microscopy depends on the probe size, i.e. the contact surface. Generally, standard AFM probes share a tip radius of less than 10 nm. A priori, when a tip is blunt, it becomes difficultly possible to measure the details on the topography of a substrate in picometer or nanometer ranges. A priori, one could argue that our AFM-NSOM probe is blunt, when the contact surface is ten times larger than a commercial tip’s contact diameter. In order to assure that the AFM measurement technique is still relevant, we already presented preliminary experimental results15 for surface topography of materials scanned with these blunt AFM-NSOM probes, in order to show how the AFM imaging capability is not altered.

Multi-truncated tips

Looking forward, the next step, which could not be performed yet due to the undefined COVID-19 confinement period, would be to perform the ablation of the tip at different heights, this in order to enable larger contact surfaces in which the FIB will drill this time several apertures on the same plane, as presented above in Figs. 16 and 18. This part will consist in progressive work, with series of samples, sharing different numbers of apertures (from two to four), and different diameters of apertures. Such proposed tip, combining high spatial resolution together with polarimetric capability, is very novel, and has better been demonstrated before. Moreover, it has high applicability in scanning microscopy to be used for improved mapping of functionality of nano photonics devices. The novelty is related to the fact the proposed probe, when scanning nano photonic devices, could provide topography readout together with electro-magnetic intensity distribution, as in NSOM, but together with its polarization state in every sampled point. Such capability yields functionality significantly enhancing the characterization abilities of nano devices, and better understanding their operability. The added value of this specific paper is the capability of combining three modalities together, allowing not only to readout the intensity with nanometric resolution, but also to extract its polarization state.


In this article, a new concept of improved scanning system was presented. The new system has been built on standard Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) cantilever, in order to serve as a triple-mode scanning system, sharing complementary scanning mechanical topography (AFM), optical data analysis (NSOM), and polarization states (four multiple apertures as four Strokes criteria). This win–win combining probing system enabling light collection through a very sensitive silicon-based photo-detector, has been designed and simulated using Comsol Multi-Physics software package, and consists in a Platinum-Silicon drilled conical photodetector, sharing subwavelength apertures. It has been processed using advanced nanotechnology tools on a commercial silicon cantilever. After a comparison study of drilled versus filled tips advantages, and of several optics phenomena such as interferences, the article presented the added value of multiple-apertures scanning tip for nano-polarimetry. Such advanced system will enable crossing information of mechanical, optical and polarization results during the samples’ scanning process, and thorough and more accurate analysis of the observed results. The importance of using a drilled photodetector when compared to a filled one was discussed. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 unlimited unknown confinement period, the next steps will need to be part of an additional research and publication (Supplementary Information).


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Author information




M.K. performed all the Comsol simulations, and prepared the corresponding figures. He also participated in writing the description of these figures. Z.Z. is co-author of the manuscript’s text and simulations and leads the Bar-Ilan University (BIU) labs. A.K. is the supervisor and the initiator of this research, the team leader of the ALEO labs, the author of the main manuscript text. In addition to the writing of text itself, he also worked on the figures explanations. All authors reviewed the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Avi Karsenty.

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Karelits, M., Zalevsky, Z. & Karsenty, A. Nano polarimetry: enhanced AFM-NSOM triple-mode polarimeter tip. Sci Rep 10, 16201 (2020).

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