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Plasmon Enhanced Photoemission

  • Author(s): Polyakov, Aleksandr N.
  • Advisor(s): Falcone, Roger W
  • et al.

Next generation ultrabright light sources will operate at megahertz repetition rates with temporal resolution in the attosecond regime. For an X-Ray Free Electron Laser (FEL) to operate at such repetition rate requires a high quantum efficiency (QE) cathode to produce electron bunches of 300 pC per 1.5e-6 J incident laser pulse. Semiconductor photocathodes have sufficient QE in the ultraviolet (UV) and the visible spectrum, however, they produce picosecond electron pulses due to the electron-phonon scattering. On the other hand, metals have two orders of magnitude less QE, but can produce femtosecond pulses, that are required to form the optimum electron distribution for high efficiency FEL operation. In this work, a novel metallic photocathode design is presented, where a set of nano-cavities is introduced on the metal surface to increase its QE to meet the FEL requirements, while maintaining the fast time response.

Photoemission can be broken up into three steps: (1) photon absorption, (2) electron transport to the surface, and (3) crossing the metal-vacuum barrier. The first two steps can be improved by making the metal completely absorbing and by localizing the fields closer to the metal surface, thereby reducing the electron travel distance. Both of these effects can be achieved by coupling the incident light to an electron density wave on the metal surface, represented by a quasi-particle, the Surface Plasmon Polariton (SPP).

The photoemission then becomes a process where the photon energy is transferred to an SPP and then to an electron. The dispersion relation for the SPP defines the region of energies where such process can occur. For example, for gold, the maximum SPP energy is 2.4 eV, however, the work function is 5.6 eV, therefore, only a fourth order photoemission process is possible. In such process, four photons excite four plasmons that together excite only one electron. The yield of such non-linear process depends strongly on the light intensity.

In this work, the structure consisted of rectangular nano-grooves (NGs) arranged in a subwavelength grating on a metal surface is presented that provides a dramatic increase in the metal's absorption, field localization, and field enhancement. When light is polarized perpendicular to the orientation of the grooves a standing SPP wave is excited along the vertical walls in the NGs, that act as Fabry-Perot resonators. By adjusting the geometry of the NGs and the period of the subwavelength grating the resonance can be fine tuned to a desired position, for example, the laser fundamental wavelength, anywhere from the UV to the near infrared (NIR).

Two types of gratings are presented: (a) a gold grating with period of 600 nm, and (b) an aluminum-gold grating with a period of 100 nm; both with resonance at 720 nm. In each case, strong on-resonance absorption was observed, with over 98% for grating (b). Unlike the grating-coupled SPP waves, where the angle is well defined by the momentum matching condition, the resonant NGs allow coupling to the standing modes at a range of angles of incidence, referred to as the angular bandwidth. A new model for the on-resonance absorption based on the ensamble action of the NGs is presented that serves as the basis for a design of an NG grating with an ultrawide spectral as well as angular bandwidth. For sample (b), the angular bandwidth is 80 degrees, corresponding to an opening angle of 160 degrees.

The photoemission enhancement for such a grating was measured to be seven orders of magnitude for a four-photon photoemission. This is an incredible result demonstrating the power of the plasmonic grating presented, which is an efficient light trapper and field enhancer for a non-linear processes. These results demonstrate that the metal photocathode prepared with a NG grating on the metal surface will provide sufficient pulse charge driven by a 1e-6 J 15 fs pulsed laser at 800 nm for the optimum FEL operation.

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