Abstract

Surface plasmons (SP’s) are electromagnetic surface waves that propagate along the interface between conductors and dielectrics. The k vector of these waves is larger than the free-space wave vector. The importance of SP’s lies in the fact that they are extremely sensitive to small changes in the dielectric properties of substances that are in contact with the conductors. This property means that SP’s have many sensor applications; however, when they are used in microscopic applications the lateral resolution is limited to several micrometers. We discuss how this limit can be overcome by use of defocused high-numerical-aperture liquid-immersion objectives. We also present SP images that demonstrate a resolution comparable with that expected from high-numerical-aperture optical microscopes. Finally, we discuss how ultrahigh-numerical-aperture objectives with numerical apertures greater than 1.5 can be expected to have considerable influence on biological imaging.

© 2000 Optical Society of America

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