We analyze the limitations imposed by sample absorption on the determination of the nonlinear refractive index by the Z-scan technique. By using a nanostructured thin film consisting of Cu nanocrystals embedded in a dielectric Al2O3 matrix as an example, we show that thermo-optical effects appearing when linear absorption is significant can be strongly misleading in the interpretation of the results of a Z scan. Even though this effect is not new, the widespread use of the Z-scan technique during the past several years makes it necessary to analyze explicitly the conditions under which the technique can be reliably applied and when more sophisticated techniques should be used instead. We discuss the contributions to the signal under different experimental conditions, several diagnostic techniques to discriminate true nonlinear effects from thermally induced phenomena, and different methods to reduce the thermal contribution.
© 2002 Optical Society of AmericaPDF Article