Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Markus B. Raschke

Second Advisor

Cindy A. Regal

Third Advisor

Ana Maria Rey

Fourth Advisor

Xiaobo Yin

Fifth Advisor

Wounjhang Park


Optical properties of many materials and macroscopic systems are defined by ultrafast dynamics of electronic, vibrational, and spin excitations localized on the nanoscale. Harnessing these excitations for material engineering, optical computing, and control of chemical reactions has been a long-standing goal in science and technology. However, it is challenging due to the lack of spectroscopic techniques that can resolve processes simultaneously on the nanometer spatial and femtosecond temporal scales. This thesis describes the fundamental principles, implementation, and experimental demonstration of a novel type of ultrafast microscopy based on the concept of adiabatic plasmonic nanofocusing. Simultaneous spatio-temporal resolution on a nanometer-femtosecond scale is achieved by using a near-field nonlinear optical response induced by ultrafast surface plasmon polaritons nanofocused on a metal tip.

First, we study the surface plasmon response in metallic structures and evaluate its prospects and limitations for ultrafast near-field microscopy. Through plasmon emission-based spectroscopy, we investigate dephasing times and interplay between radiative and non-radiative decay rates of localized plasmons and their modification due to coupling. We identify a new regime of quantum plasmonic coupling, which limits the achievable spatial resolution to several angstroms but at the same time provides a potential channel for generating ultrafast electron currents at optical frequencies.

Next, we study propagation of femtosecond wavepackets of surface plasmon polaritons on a metal tip. In time-domain interferometric measurements we detect group delays that correspond to slowing of the plasmon polaritons down to 20% of the speed of light at the tip apex. This provides direct experimental verification of the plasmonic nanofocusing mechanism and suggests enhanced nonlinear optical interactions at the tip apex. We then measure a plasmon-generated third-order nonlinear optical four-wave mixing response from the tip apex and investigate its microscopic mechanism. Our results reveal a significant contribution to the third order nonlinearity of plasmonic structures due to large near-field gradients associated with nanofocused plasmons.

In combination with scanning probe imaging and femtosecond pulse shaping, the nanofocused four-wave mixing response provides a basis for a novel type of ultrafast optical microscopy on the nanoscale. We demonstrate its capabilities by nano-imaging the coherent dynamics of localized plasmonic modes in a rough gold film edge with simultaneous sub-50 nm spatial and sub-5 fs temporal resolution. We capture the coherent decay and extract the dephasing times of individual plasmonic modes.

Lastly, we apply our technique to study nanoscale spatial heterogeneity of the nonlinear optical response in novel two-dimensional materials: monolayer and few-layer graphene. An enhanced four-wave mixing signal is revealed on the edges of graphene flakes. We investigate the mechanism of this enhancement by performing nano-imaging on a graphene field-effect transistor with the variable carrier density controlled by electrostatic gating.