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Nanophotonics with surface enhanced coherent Raman microscopy


Nonlinear nanophotonics is a rapidly developing field of research that aims at detecting and disentangling weak congested optical signatures on the nanoscale. Sub-wavelength field confinement of the local electromagnetic fields and the resulting field enhancement is achieved by utilizing plasmonic near-field antennas. This allows for probing nanoscopic volumes, a property unattainable by conventional far-field microscopy techniques. Combination of plasmonics and nonlinear optical microscopy provides a path to visualizing a small chemical and spatial subset of target molecules within an ensemble. This is achieved while maintaining rapid signal acquisition, which is necessary for capturing biological processes in living systems.

Herein, a novel technique, wide-field surface enhanced coherent anti-Stokes Raman scattering (\textit{wf}SE-CARS) is presented. This technique allows for isolating weak vibrational signals in nanoscopic proximity to the surface by using chemical sensitivity of coherent Raman microspectroscopy (CRM) and field confinement from surface plasmons supported on a thin gold film. Uniform field enhancement over a large field of view, achieved with surface plasmon polaritons (SPP) in \textit{wf}SE-CARS, allows for biomolecular imaging demonstrated on extended structures like phospholipid droplets and live cells. Surface selectivity and chemical contrast are achieved at $\sim$ 70 fJ/$\mu$m$^2$ incident energy densities, which is over five orders of magnitude lower than used in conventional point scanning CRM.

Next, a novel surface sensing imaging technique, local field induced metal emission (LFIME), is introduced. Presence of a sample material at the surface influences the local fields of a thin flat gold film, such that nonlinear fluorescence signal of the metal can be detected in the far-field. Nanoscale nonmetallic, nonfluorescent objects can be imaged with high signal-to-background ratio and diffraction limited lateral resolution using LFIME. Additionally, structure of the extended samples' surfaces can be visualized with a nanoscale axial resolution providing topographic information.

Finally, a platform for coherently interrogating single molecules is presented. Single-molecule limit SE-CARS on non-resonant molecules is achieved by means of 3D local field confinement in the nanojunctions between two spherical gold nanoparticles. Localized plasmon resonance of the dimer nanostructure confines the probe volume down to 1 nm$^3$ and provides the local field enhancement necessary to reach single-molecule detection limit. Nonlinear excitation of Raman vibrations in SE-CARS microspectroscopy allows for higher image acquisition rates than in conventionally used single-molecule surface enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS). Therefore, data throughput is significantly improved while preserving spectral information despite the presence of the metal. Data simultaneously acquired from hundreds of nanoantennas allows to establish the peak enhancement factor from the observed count rates and define the maximum allowed local-field that preserves the integrity of the antenna. These results are paramount for the future design of time resolved single-molecule studies with multiple pulsed laser excitations, required for single-molecule coherence manipulation and quantum computing.

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