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Infrared antenna for nano-size mapping of crystal vibrations

Crystals have always been admired for their optical brilliance, but only a few specialists know that crystals can reflect 100% of infrared light like a metal. The origin of this reflection is that the lattice atoms vibrate against each other and hinder infrared light waves of the same band of frequencies from entering. The team of physicists consisting of Rainer Hillenbrand (postdoc), Thomas Taubner (doctoral student) and Fritz Keilmann (senior researcher) now shows that the infrared behaviour changes dramatically when the infrared is applied through their antenna, which is the probing needle of their microscope: the known metal-like reflectivity transforms into a monochromatic or single-colour resonant response. This effect was predicted 19 years ago by Aravind and Metiu (University of California, Santa Barbara, USA) but not yet been experimentally observed.

The infrared near-field microscope of the same group had already been in the news three years ago, for its ability to resolve details as small as 1/100th of the wavelength, and further its unique ability to distinguish chemical composition ("chemical microscope", see Nature 399, 134, 1999). The basic technique is to illuminate the needle of a scanning probe microscope with infrared light. While the needle scans over the sample the surface relief builds up on the computer screen. Simultaneously, the recorded infrared light generates an infrared image of the same area, valuable for interpreting local material composition.


The metallic needle intensifies the infrared light at its tip (much as a radio antenna enhances faint signals). In the current experiment the researchers studied a silicon carbide (SiC) crystal. When the tip of the needle came within 30 nm of the crystal surface they observed a dramatically enhanced infrared signal once they had tuned the laser frequency to the phonon resonance. This was indicative of extreme local intensity. Compared with a gold surface the Si
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Contact: Dr. Fritz Keilmann
keilmann@biochem.mpg.de
0049-89-8578-2617
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
19-Jul-2002


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