Single-molecule optomechanics in “picocavities”

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Science  11 Nov 2016:
Vol. 354, Issue 6313, pp. 726-729
DOI: 10.1126/science.aah5243

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A cool route to nanospectroscopy

Confining light to a cavity is often used to enhance the interaction between the light and a particle stored within the cavity. Benz et al. worked with a self-assembled monolayer of biphenyl-4-thiol molecules sandwiched between a gold film and a gold nanoparticle. They used laser irradiation to move atoms in the nanoparticle and produced a “picocavity” that was stable at cryogenic temperatures. The authors were then able to obtain time-dependent Raman spectra from individual molecules. Such subwavelength cavities that can localize light to volumes well below 1 nm3 will enable optical experiments on the atomic scale.

Science, this issue p. 726


Trapping light with noble metal nanostructures overcomes the diffraction limit and can confine light to volumes typically on the order of 30 cubic nanometers. We found that individual atomic features inside the gap of a plasmonic nanoassembly can localize light to volumes well below 1 cubic nanometer (“picocavities”), enabling optical experiments on the atomic scale. These atomic features are dynamically formed and disassembled by laser irradiation. Although unstable at room temperature, picocavities can be stabilized at cryogenic temperatures, allowing single atomic cavities to be probed for many minutes. Unlike traditional optomechanical resonators, such extreme optical confinement yields a factor of 106 enhancement of optomechanical coupling between the picocavity field and vibrations of individual molecular bonds. This work sets the basis for developing nanoscale nonlinear quantum optics on the single-molecule level.

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