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Review of Scientific Instruments

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Tip-induced sample heating in near-field scanning optical microscopy (NSOM) is studied for fiber optic probes fabricated using the chemical etching technique. To characterize sample heating from etched NSOM probes, the spectra of a thermochromic polymer sample are measured as a function of probe output power, as was previously reported for pulled NSOM probes. The results reveal that sample heating increases rapidly to ~55–60°C as output powers reach ~50 nW. At higher output powers, the sample heating remains approximately constant up to the maximum power studied of ~450 nW. The sample heating profiles measured for etched NSOM probes are consistent with those previously measured for NSOM probes fabricated using the pulling method. At high powers, both pulled and etched NSOM probes fail as the aluminum coating is damaged. For probes fabricated in our laboratory we find failure occurring at input powers of 3.4 ± 1.7 and 20.7 ± 6.9 mW for pulled and etched probes, respectively. The larger half-cone angle for etched probes (∼15° for etched and ~6° for pulled probes) enables more light delivery and also apparently leads to a different failure mechanism. For pulled NSOM probes, high resolution images of NSOM probes as power is increased reveal the development of stress fractures in the coating at a taper diameter of ~6μm. These stress fractures, arising from the differential heating expansion of the dielectric and the metal coating, eventually lead to coating removal and probe failure. For etched tips, the absence of clear stress fractures and the pooled morphology of the damaged aluminum coating following failure suggest that thermal damage may cause coating failure, although other mechanisms cannot be ruled out.



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