Synopsis: Racking up the electron billiards

Spatial maps of the photon energy emitted by plasmons on a metal surface reveal standing wave patterns caused by electron confinement.
Synopsis figure

The confinement of electrons to regions so small that quantum effects are observed is compelling for applications in quantum computing, microchip fabrication, and nanoscale laser fabrication. Such nanostructures are typically studied with scanning probes like STM (scanning tunneling microscopy) or AFM (atomic force microscopy). Reporting in Physical Review Letters, Guillaume Schull, Michael Becker, and Richard Berndt of the University of Kiel have now combined the spectroscopic utility of optical probes with the atomic resolution of STM to create detailed images of electrons corralled into nanoscale metal islands on a gold surface.

The researchers used tungsten tips to scan a chemically etched gold surface and collected photons excited by the tunneling current at the junction between the tip and the metal. The light, which was produced by the collective electron oscillations in the metal, called plasmons, was routed through an optical fiber to a spectrometer to create maps of photon energy as a function of position on the surface. These maps show striking variations caused by standing electron waves on the surface structures. In one case, the authors scanned over a triangular metal island and saw undulations in the electron density of states caused by quantum interference effects.

In addition to the spatial map of quantum confinement, the spectral data show evidence of inelastic tunneling between the tip and the two-dimensional electron gas at the surface. This ability to examine the detailed physics of plasmonic photon generation at the atomic scale should be valuable in probing the optical properties of electrons confined to nanostructures. – David Voss


Announcements

More Announcements »

Subject Areas

Optics

Previous Synopsis

Next Synopsis

Related Articles

Synopsis: A Single-Photon Cheshire Cat
Quantum Physics

Synopsis: A Single-Photon Cheshire Cat

Researchers detected the polarization of a photon separate from the photon itself, just as the grin of Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire cat can appear apart from the cat’s body. Read More »

Viewpoint: Classical Simulation of Quantum Systems?
Optics

Viewpoint: Classical Simulation of Quantum Systems?

Richard Feynman suggested that it takes a quantum computer to simulate large quantum systems, but a new study shows that a classical computer can work when the system has loss and noise. Read More »

Viewpoint: Measuring Quantum Kicks from a Beam of Light
Optics

Viewpoint: Measuring Quantum Kicks from a Beam of Light

Force sensors levitated by light have reached the quantum regime, in which their sensitivity is limited by the momentum kicks of individual photons. Read More »

More Articles