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Quantitative Near-Field Microscopy of Heterogeneous and Correlated Electron Oxides


Scanning near-field optical microscopy (SNOM) is a novel scanning probe microscopy technique capable of circumventing the conventional diffraction limit of light, affording unparalleled optical resolution (down to 10 nanometers) even for radiation in the infrared and terahertz energy regimes, with light wavelengths exceeding 10 micrometers. However, although this technique has been developed and employed for more than a decade to a qualitatively impressive effect, researchers have lacked a practically quantitative grasp of its capabilities, and its application scope has so far remained restricted by implementations limited to ambient atmospheric conditions. The two-fold objective of this dissertation work has been to address both these shortcomings. The first half of the dissertation presents a realistic, semi-analytic, and benchmarked theoretical description of probe-sample near-field interactions that form the basis of SNOM. Owing its name to the efficient nano-focusing of light at a sharp metallic apex, the “lightning rod model” of probe-sample near-field interactions is mathematically developed from a flexible and realistic scattering formalism. Powerful and practical applications are demonstrated through the accurate prediction of spectroscopic near-field optical contrasts, as well as the “inversion” of these spectroscopic contrasts into a quantitative description of material optical properties. Thus enabled, this thesis work proceeds to present quantitative applications of infrared near-field spectroscopy to investigate nano-resolved chemical compositions in a diverse host of samples, including technologically relevant lithium ion battery materials, astrophysical planetary materials, and invaluable returned extraterrestrial samples. The second half of the dissertation presents the design, construction, and demonstration of a sophisticated low-temperature scanning near-field infrared microscope. This instrument operates in an ultra-high vacuum environment suitable for the investigation of nano-scale physics in correlated electron matter at cryogenic temperatures, thus vastly expanding the scope of applications for infrared SNOM. Performance of the microscope is demonstrated through quanttiative exploration of the canonical insulator-metal transition occuring in the correlated electron insulator V2O3. The methodology established for this investigation provides a model for ongoing and future nano-optical studies of phase transitions and phase coexistence in correlated electron oxides.

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