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Development of a tip-enhanced near-field optical microscope for nanoscale interrogation of surface chemistry and plasmonic phenomena


Optical microscopy and spectroscopy are invaluable tools for the physical and chemical characterization of materials and surfaces in a wide range of scientific disciplines. However, the application of conventional optical methods in the study of nanomaterials is inherently limited by diffraction. Tip-enhanced near-field optical microscopy (TENOM) is a hybrid technique that marries optical spectroscopy with scanning probe microscopy to overcome the spatial resolution limit imposed by diffraction. By coupling optical energy into the plasmonic modes of a sharp metal probe tip, a strong, localized optical field is generated near the tip's apex and is used to enhance spectroscopic emissions within a sub-diffraction-limited volume. In this thesis, we describe the design, construction, validation, and application of a custom TENOM instrument with a unique attenuated total reflectance (ATR)-geometry excitation/detection system. The specific goals of this work were: (i) to develop a versatile TENOM instrument capable of investigating a variety of optical phenomena at the nanoscale, (ii) to use the instrument to demonstrate chemical interrogation of surfaces with sub-diffraction-limited spatial resolution (i.e., at super resolution), (iii) to apply the instrument to study plasmonic phenomena that influence spectroscopic enhancement in TENOM measurements, and (iv) to leverage resulting insights to develop systematic improvements that expand the ultimate capabilities of near-field optical interrogation techniques.

The TENOM instrument described herein is comprised of three main components: an atomic force microscope (AFM), a side-on confocal Raman microscope, and a novel ATR excitation/detection system. The design of each component is discussed along with the results of relevant validation experiments, which were performed to rigorously assess each component's performance. Finite-difference time-domain (FDTD) optical simulations were also developed and used extensively to evaluate the results of validation studies and to optimize experimental design and instrument performance. By combining and synchronizing the operation of the instrument's three components, we perform a variety of near-field optical experiments that demonstrate the instrument's functionality and versatility. ATR illumination is combined with a plasmonic AFM tip to show that: (i) the tip can quantitatively transduce the optical near-field (evanescent waves) above the surface by scattering photons into the far-field, (ii) the ATR geometry enables excitation and characterization of surface plasmon polaritons (SPPs), whose associated optical fields are shown to enhance Raman scattering from a thin layer of copper phthalocyanine (CuPc), and (iii) SPPs can be used to plasmonically excite the tip for super-resolution chemical imaging of patterned CuPc via tip-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (TERS). ATR-illumination TERS is quantitatively compared with side-on illumination. In both cases, spatial resolution was better than 40 nm and tip-on/tip-off Raman enhancement factors were >6500. Furthermore, ATR illumination was shown to provide similar Raman signal levels at lower "effective'' pump powers due to additional optical energy delivered by SPPs to the active region in the tip-surface gap.

We also investigate the sensitivity of the TENOM instrument to changes in the plasmonic properties of the tip-surface system in the strongly-coupled regime at small tip-surface separations. Specifically, we demonstrate detection of a resonant plasmonic tip-surface mode (a gap plasmon) that dramatically influences the optical response of the system, and we use experimental results and FDTD simulations to support a hypothesized mechanism. Moreover, we confirm that the gap plasmon resonance has a strong effect on the enhancement of both fluorescence and Raman scattering, and we propose that this phenomenon could ultimately be exploited to improve sensitivity in super-resolution chemical imaging measurements. Finally, we recommend a straightforward modification to the TENOM instrument that could enable future application of these gap-mode plasmon resonances to increase spectroscopic enhancements by an order of magnitude.

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