CPO: Coverstory for Jacob Hoogenboom and Robert Moerland in Optica Magazine
The cover of the February edition of Optica Magazine shows an artist impression of an optical ruler with sub-nanometer accuracy, based on fluorescence lifetime measurements.
The research article "Subnanometer-accuracy optical distance ruler based on fluorescence quenching by transparent conductors" can be found on page 112-117.
Transparent conductive oxides (TCOs), such as the well-known indium-tin oxide, find widespread use in modern (nano)technological applications because of their unique combination of negligible optical absorption and good electric conductivity. We, however, show that despite the near-zero imaginary part of the refractive index that is responsible for the material’s transparency, TCOs drastically quench optical emitters when the emitter is within 10 nm from the TCO. Our results reveal that the pure near-field nature of this dissipation makes for an exquisite short-range optical ruler. Previous quenching-based optical rulers, based on interactions with plasmonic or graphene materials, have allowed measuring distances in the 20–100 nm range. Distances below 20 nm have, however, been hard to assess due to poor photon yields or weak absolute variations. We show that TCO-based rulers close this gap, allowing distance measurements with far-field optics in the 1–10 nm distance range with deep subnanometer sensitivity.