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Nanoprobing: Making the smallest things visible” (2007 Annual Report)

Measuring the nanoscale characteristics of ultrafast optical pulses

Device design

Ultrafast optical technology, which involves the generation of optical pulses measured in femtoseconds, has emerged as the natural complement to nanotechnology. There’s only one hold-up in integrating the technologies: the nanoscale characteristics of ultrafast optical pulses can’t be fully measured.

Although optical imaging can attain resolution on the scale of 50 to 100 nanometers, and characterization tools can characterize ultrashort optical pulses as short as a few femtoseconds, no way exists to observe all three dimensions of an ultrafast optical pulse at the nano scale without disturbing the pulse’s operation.

Yong Xu is working with Zhiwen Liu of Penn State to develop a nanoprobe to solve the problem. The probe, which consists of a nanoparticle attached to a silica fiber by a nanowire, will be able to sense both the temporal and spatial characteristics of an ultrashort optical pulse. Because the sensor itself is at the nanoscale, it produces a minimal amount of optical scattering and does not disturb what it observes.

The research is funded by a $300,000, 3-year NSF grant.