The physical structure and electronic properties of each individual species of single-walled carbon nanotubes are governed by chirality, meaning their structure has a distinct left/right orientation or "handedness," which cannot be superimposed on a mirror image. As a result, achieving chirality-controlled growth of carbon nanotubes and understanding the physics behind chirality-dependent devices are two of the biggest challenges in nanotube research.
"Polarization-based optical microscopy and spectroscopy techniques are well-suited for meeting these challenges, as polarized light is extremely sensitive to optical anisotropy in a system and has long been exploited to study chirality in molecules and crystals," Wang says. "However, the small signal and unavoidable environment background has made it difficult to use polarized optical microscopy to study single carbon nanotubes."
Difficulties arise from an apparent contradiction in polarization-based optical microscopy. For any optical microscope, a large numerical aperture (NA) objective is crucial for high-spatial resolution, but polarized light passing through a large NA objective becomes strongly depolarized. With their new technique, Wang and his colleagues were able to do what has not been done before and simultaneously achieve both high polarization and high spatial resolution.
"The key to our success was the realization that light illumination and light collection can be controlled separately," Wang says. "We used a large NA objective for light collection to obtain high spatial resolution, but were able to create an effectively small NA objective for illumination to maintain high polarization purity."
|Contact: Lynn Yarris|
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory