Improving the measure of optical rulers

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Science  25 Mar 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6280, pp. 1412-1413
DOI: 10.1126/science.351.6280.1412-d

Rulers are familiar tools used to measure short distances and separations, but for separations smaller than those that can be resolved by optical microscopes, more advanced methods must be used. For example, fluorescent centers change their optical properties when placed in close proximity to a metal or semiconducting surface, and modeling that change can determine the distance between them. Such optical rulers are typically limited to distances exceeding 20 nm, but by replacing that surface by a transparent conducting oxide, Moerland and Hoogenboom show that they can determine separations well below 10 nm. Measuring such small distances with subnanometer sensitivity could prove useful in imaging live cells and in the precision placement of active optical centers for nanophotonic applications.

Optica 3, 112 (2016).

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