We investigate the feasibility of CMOS-compatible optical structures to develop novel integrated spectroscopy systems. We show that local field enhancement is achievable utilizing dimers of plasmonic nanospheres that can be assembled from colloidal solutions on top of a CMOS-compatible optical waveguide. The resonant dimer nanoantennas are excited by modes guided in the integrated silicon nitride waveguide. Simulations show that 100-fold electric field enhancement builds up in the dimer gap as compared to the waveguide evanescent field amplitude at the same location. We investigate how the field enhancement depends on dimer location, orientation, distance and excited waveguide mode.
© 2016 Optical Society of America
The use of nano photonic sensors enables on-site real-time qualitative detection of molecules or bio chemical agents [1–5] with detection limit approaching to single molecule level, and hence leads also to deep understanding of biological and chemical processes that are useful for medical diagnosis [6–11]. Using metal nanostructures for this purpose has been the subject of many studies [12–14] due to the strong near-field plasmonic coupling and local field enhancement that arise between nanospheres in such configurations. Moreover, metal nano architectures may lead to strong surface enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) intensities [15–17] depending on parameters such as size, shape, morphology, arrangement, and local environment. In particular, SERS is an optical spectroscopy method that can use nanoantenna surfaces to enhance signals of light scattered from molecular vibrations for detection of trace amounts of chemical and biological agents . Surface plasmon excitation of a metallic structure in the vicinity of sample molecules is a key factor in the enhanced detection limits in SERS. In , it has been shown that the SERS enhancement is proportional to the field enhancement with the forth power (assuming that excitation and scattered frequencies are very close to each other). Surfaces of plasmonic nanosphere clusters have been shown to provide large electric field hot spots [20–23] and they have been utilized in SERS [24–27] where the number of particles per cluster and the cluster separation are stated as important factors for increasing the SERS intensity. An exponential dependence between SERS enhancement factor and gap spacing has been experimentally observed in . Also it has been shown that surfaces made of regular arrays made of plasmonic nanospheres have the capability to provide even stronger signals than non-arrayed surfaces [22,23].
Nanosphere-based cluster assemblies in prior studies have exhibited signal enhancements in SERS sensors. However, the challenge of fabricating systems with high reproducibility in SERS response across the sensor surface is not frequently addressed. To overcome this challenge, in our previous work ,  an innovative method for fabricating self-organized clusters of metal nanospheres with nanometer gap spacing on diblock copolymer thin films was successfully investigated. Specifically, monodisperse, colloidal gold nanospheres are attached on chemically functionalized polymer regions on a self-organized diblock copolymer template to engineer a high density of hotspots over large areas while using low cost fabrication methods. Although single molecule detection limits using nanostructured surfaces have been demonstrated previously, issues of large scale fabrication cost, shelf life, reproducibility in detection response, and integration have eluded researchers and this has resulted in limited technological impact.
The goal of this paper is to investigate an on-chip architecture that eliminates structural constraints of an external microscope and integrates the entire excitation and detection mechanism into a single waveguide; thus reducing size and cost, increasing portability, usage flexibility and robustness of future spectroscopy based sensors. On chip spectroscopic measurements are enabled by silicon compatible materials with low loss at visible and at near IR frequencies. Here, the integration of nanoantennas with waveguides that we propose is a spectrometer building block which addresses the above challenges and only requires smaller sample solution volumes in comparison with open systems. With this goal in mind, we investigate the field enhancement capability of plasmonic nanoantennas composed of nanospheres from colloidal solution located on the surface of silicon nitride (Si3N4) waveguides. Silicon nitride waveguides may serve as both illumination and detection channels for exciting and collecting signals from nanoantennas. The silicon nitride waveguide platform is proposed instead of a silicon-on-insulator (SOI) platform for integrated photonic circuits [30–32] due to its advantages such as absence of multi photon absorption process , lower fabrication cost and less propagation loss  at both visible and near infrared [35,36]. infrared [35,36]. In particular, we aim at sensing with wholly integrated system for bio applications, where most of the experimental work happens below 800nm, and silicon is not suitable for this wavelength range due to its absorption spectrum. Moreover in previous work  some of the authors fabricated a sub-micron silicon nitride waveguide, experimentally characterized the modal dispersion and loss of the guided wave and demonstrated that silicon nitride can be an alternative to SOI platform. The scheme of assembling dimer nanoantennas on the silicon nitride waveguides from colloidal solution allows for numerous nanoantennas present on the surface of the waveguide with high density which can be done via self-assembly on a chemically functionalized copolymer template. We assume in this investigation that dimer nanoantennas on the waveguides are separated by sufficient distances and do not couple with each other such that each nanoantenna can be modeled as an isolated nanoantenna integrated with the waveguide. However, to verify our assumption about considering each dimer isolated, we study also the effect of coupling between different nanoantennas, with different distances and orientations in Section 2. In other words, our goal is to investigate a mechanism for field enhancement by using nanoantennas coupled to and excited by the integrated waveguide, that can fabricated at lower cost compared to e-beam lithography that may generate a breakthrough in portable and affordable sensors. Hence, in the following we carry out the investigation on the performance of a dimer nanoantenna on top of a waveguide, and observe how the field enhancement depends on various geometrical factors.
The paper is organized as follows. First we demonstrate an E-field enhancement results pertaining to cases expected in experimental specimens, so we assume that a thioctic acid molecular layer (used for assembly) covers the gold nanosphere dimer on top of the waveguide to model realistic chemical and physical composition of the fabricated samples. Modeling of this thin layer requires fine meshes, which requires extra computational resources. Therefore, after investigating how the layer thickness affects the performance of the waveguide driven nanoantenna, we remove it to make our model simpler from the numerical point of view. We initially assume that the dimer is ideally aligned along the x-axis on top of the middle of waveguide. Then we further analyze the dependence of the field enhancement on the waveguide modes, geometrical parameters such as waveguide dimensions, dimer location and orientation, the gap between nanospheres, and we study the coupling effect of different nanoantennas on each other. Finally we compare the field enhancement performance of the proposed waveguide-driven nanoantenna structure with a more traditional way to conduct spectroscopy, i.e., with that consisting of the same nanoantenna dimer placed on top of a multilayer composed of silicon nitride on top of glass, with the same thicknesses as in the waveguide case, illuminated by an external plane wave. We conclude that the field enhancement is comparable.
2. Field enhancement by a nanoantenna integrated with a waveguide
In previous works, as in [24–27], nanostructured surfaces made of nanospheres were investigated for detections of low molecular concentrations. The electric field enhancement is a critical parameter in decreasing detection limit down to single molecule level. Here we propose the use of a resonant plasmonic nanoantenna integrated with a CMOS-compatible waveguide to provide strong field enhancement. Specifically, the nanoantenna is composed of a dimer of gold nanospheres sitting above a silicon nitride waveguide that provides the optical excitation as shown in Fig. 1. The chemical assembly procedure of  and  involves depositing gold nanospheres with thioctic acids ligands from colloidal solution on a diblock copolymer thin film composed of poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA) and polystyrene (PS-b-PMMA). Nanospheres chemically attach to PMMA domains that are recessed with respect to PS regions due to the chemical functionalization process . This thin film layer on top of the waveguide (shown in purple in Fig. 1) represents here the combination of thioctic acid ligands and copolymer template. The SEM picture in Fig. 1(a) shows various plasmonic gold nanoantennas (monomers, dimers, trimers, etc) assembled on PMMA domains on the PS-b-PMMA copolymer template, covering the top surface of a silicon nitride waveguide [26,27,29]. The SEM image demonstrates resulting nanoantennas via colloidal assembly of nanospheres via diffusion that creates random geometries with varying field enhancement ratios on top of the waveguide surface. The geometries in Fig. 1(b) and the two circular insets show the geometry considered and investigated in this paper via full-wave numerical simulations as the deposition process can be varied to produce a large fraction of dimers on the surface . In this article we first investigate the field enhancement produced by a dimer on top of the waveguide. In fact such nanoantennas with subwavelength sizes, in most of the cases, can be treated as isolated scatterers that do not couple significantly with other dimers based on the assumption that dimer density is not too high on the waveguide surface. The validity of this assumption is indeed shown later on in this paper where we study the effect of the coupling by considering different nanaoantennas with different orientations and distances from our main dimer.
The significant difference between the proposed structures in Fig. 1. and previous work such as , is the integrated excitation method; instead of illuminating the structure with an external beam, as in , the gold dimer is excited by the tail field of a guided mode propagating inside a waveguide on a glass substrate.
For all cases reported in this paper, the vertical distance from the bottom of the nanospheres to the top surface of the silicon nitride waveguide is denoted by h and the shortest distance between the two nanospheres' surfaces is called the “gap”, as shown in Fig. 1(b). According to the SEM images of a fabricated sample reported in [25–27,29], an experimentally achievable gap between the nanospheres with diameters of 23 nm is 1-2 nm. Static, reproducible gap spacings have been achieved for distances between 0.9nm-5.3nm using small molecule linkers and DNA origami [40–43]. Highly monodisperse particles with ~10% relative standard deviations in particle size are commercially available and even more monodisperse Au nanoparticles have been synthesized in the literature . Accordingly, in this paper we assume a gap spacing of 2 nm and gold nanosphere diameter of 23 nm and the diameter is kept constant for all the cases reported throughout the paper. The permittivity of gold is taken from the experimental data provided in . In our model we consider a rectangular silicon nitride waveguide with cross section of as in Fig. 1. Two types of the thin film models are considered in the following: (Case I) a uniform layer with thickness of 40 nm surrounds a dimer that is partially submerged as shown in Fig. 1(b) (left panel), and (Case II) a 30nm-thick whole layer together with a 2nm single-molecule layer covering the entire dimer surfaces as in Fig. 1(b) (right panel). Case I represents the case when the dimers are located in a small valley in the PMMA and then a thin layer of thioctic acid molecules is deposited partially filling the gap region. Case II evaluates the contribution of the thioctic acid monolayer on the nanosphere surface. The comparison of the two cases provides insight into the enhancement resulting from the PMMA and from the thioctic monolayer. For simplicity, in both Cases I and II we consider an average dielectric constant of 2.47 to include the effect of the PMMA and the thioctic acid molecules. The chosen dielectric constant has proven to accurately reflect experimentally observed SERS enhancements in prior work . Full-wave simulations are performed by the frequency domain finite elements method (FEM), implemented in the commercial software CST Microwave Studio by Computer Simulation Technology AG.
We define the field enhancement (FE) asFigure 2. shows the comparison of the E-field enhancement for Cases I and II illustrated in Fig. 1(b), while the waveguide is excited with its fundamental propagating mode (Mode 1 in Fig. 3.) in the frequency range from 400 THz to 620 THz. Note that in Fig. 2(a) in Eq. (1) is calculated when there is no dimer and no thin film (we have observed that a definition of based on field evaluation considering the thin film and nodimer, would not alter the results). Maximum enhancements are 102 and 82 for Case I and Case II, respectively. In Fig. 2(b) we show how the field in the gap region is enhanced with respect to the field at the center of waveguide, where the modal field has its peak, for these cases (I) and (II). Our results show that the local field at the gap center is much larger (13.5 for Case I and 10.8 for Case II) than the field at the center of waveguide at resonance frequencies (504 THz in both cases).
According to Fig. 2. the resonance frequencies, 504 THz, of the two proposed cases are the same, while Case I, gives higher electric field enhancement in comparison to Case II. The important physical difference between Case I and Case II, which affect the FE results, is the percentage of the gold dimer which is submerged in the thin layer with permittivity of 2.47. In Case I, the relative percentage submerged is larger than Case II. This is attributed to the local dielectric environment near the hotspot. In Case II, a single molecular layer with thickness of 2 nm covers the dimer and the gap between the nanospheres, the thickness of the thin layer leads to less field enhancement at the center in comparison to Case I that has a thicker dielectric layer. It is important to understand the dielectric environment can be used as a design parameter for optimizing spectroscopy integrated systems in addition to the geometric concepts proposed here.
As mentioned earlier, we consider a rectangular silicon nitride waveguide with cross section of .The waveguide dimensions are determined based on limits in conventional optical lithography features where is more or less the resolution limit due to optical diffraction limit of direct contact lithography , since our aim is not to rely solely on electron beam lithography which could achieve smaller feature size. Because of silicon nitride dielectric density, the given waveguide hosts also higher order propagating modes (According to our simulations, the waveguide supports six propagating modes in the frequency range of 400-620 THz). A thinner waveguide would be easier to fabricate and provides stronger evanescent field compared to the reported case with 500 nm thickness, nonetheless it would suffer from larger loss. With the given dimer orientation (nanospheres aligned along the x-axis), a large field enhancement is achieved when the dimer is excited by horizontally polarized electric field , i.e., polarized along the x-direction, the dimer’s axis. Therefore, we consider the first five propagating modes and we classify them as quasi TE and quasi TM modes shown in Fig. 3. Quasi TE modes have PEC symmetry (electric mirror symmetry) whereas quasi TM modes have PMC symmetry (magnetic mirror symmetry) where PEC and PMC stand for perfect electric and magnetic conductors. Figure 3 shows FE in the frequency band from 470 THz to 520 THz when the waveguide is excited with the first five propagating modes, and the dimer is at x = 0 and at the height h = 25 nm from the waveguide surface, for the Case I illustrated in Fig. 1(b). The reported results shown in Fig. 3. demonstrate that for the first and the forth propagating modes (modes with strong electric field along the x-axis at the dimer location), the dimer resonates at 504 THz and leads to a FE level of approximately 102, whereas for the other modes whose their electric field does not have a horizontal component at the dimer gap, the FE is vanishing. From Fig. 3, we can infer that although the FE obtained for Mode 1 and Mode 4 is the same, the evanescent field of Mode 4 is much smaller than that of Mode 1 at the dimer location. Furthermore, here we assume that the dimer is placed at x = 0; if the dimer location changes horizontally along the x-direction, other modes also can create large field enhancement as examined in Fig. 8 (c)-8(d).
In all the following full-wave simulation results, we assume the waveguide is excited only by its fundamental propagating mode (Mode 1 in Fig. 3.) with horizontal polarization. Figure 4. shows the electric field localization for Case I of Fig. 1(b). by plotting the electric field magnitude maps, normalized to the electric field magnitude at every point, in the absence of dimer and thin layer, on the three orthogonal cross-sectional planes of the dimer. The E-field hot spot is localized mainly at the gap as expected, and the shape of the field profile between the nanospheres indicates the dipolar nature of the scattering from the nanospheres.
The E-field enhancement profile along the y axis (vertical axis in the middle of the waveguide passing through the dimer’s gap center) for Case I of Fig. 1(b) is reported in Fig. 5(a), when h is fixed at 25 nm (thus gap center is at yd = 286.5 nm) at 504 THz. Here and denote the magnitude of electric field, both as a function of vertical coordinate y, at the presence and absence of the nanoantenna and the thin layer, respectively. (We leave the y dependency in the formula to stress that also depends on vertical position for the analysis presented in Fig. 5(a) whereas in Fig. 5(b) is normalized with respect to.) Fig. 5(a) provides the signature of the dimer near field that is characterized by a peak at the gap center. The zoom in the inset shows the actual peak width of few nanometers. The nanoantenna provides a strong enhancement of the field compared to the field at the same location without a nanontenna and the thin layer, but it is also interesting to observe how strong is the field in the nanoantenna gap when compared with the field guided by the waveguide reported in Fig. 5(b). Indeed, there we report the ratio defined as the magnitude of electric field along a scan line coinciding with the y axis in presence of the nanoantenna, normalized by the electric field magnitude at the center of the waveguide (y = 0 nm) where the modal guided electric field is maximum.
The electric field at the dimer’s gap center is 13.5 times stronger than the guided electric field at the waveguide center, hereby stressing that the resonant plasmonic dimer's near field, driven by the weaker evanescent field tail outside the waveguide, reaches even larger levels than the maximum of the guided field at the center.
Note that by invoking reciprocity, the field scattered by the dimer, when excited by an emitting molecule in the gap region, is efficiently coupled into the waveguide and the coupled electric field amplitude is over 13.5 of field at the emitted field in the dimer’s gap. Note that this result pertains to the well confined field of Mode 1 of the waveguide (Fig. 3.).
Although the realistic case for putting gold nanoantenna on top of the waveguide is based on a colloidal assembly method, for the sake of understanding what contributes to the field enhancement we now study the effect of removing the thin dielectric layer, and varying the vertical position of dimer “h” on the FE. Therefore in Fig. 6. we compare the FE results of Case I with h equals to 25 nm to the cases where we remove the thin dielectric layer (the thin purple layer in Fig. 1(b)) and the dimer is assumed to be located at various vertical distance from the waveguide surface, h, in the range from 0 nm to 25 nm while keeping the horizontal position of the dimer fixed above the center of the waveguide (x = 0 nm) and the gap spacing as 2 nm.
It was reported in  that thioctic acid present in the gap increases the enhancement in surface enhanced Raman scattering measurements and leads to a redshift in the plasmon resonance due to the increased dielectric constant in the gap as compared to vacuum. According to Fig. 6. an average dielectric constant of 2.47 in the region between nanospheres due to PMMA environment and thioctic acid ligands on the dimer’s surface (Case I), and the resulting dielectric contrast with respect to the surrounding vacuum, indeed leads to a red-shif in the plasmon resonance in comparison to the cases without the thin layer. The plasmon resonance is determined to be 504 THz for Case I and 549 THz, 550 THz, and 554 THz for the three cases without a thin dielectric layer, with varying distance from the surface (h equals to 0, 5, and 25 nm respectively). In absence of the thin dielectric layer, as h increases from 0 nm (dimer is in contact with the waveguide) to 25 nm (the same vertical location as Case I), the field enhancement drops monotonically from 30.4 to 25.7, and the resonance frequency exhibits a small shift to higher frequencies. It is clear that there is only slight difference between the results of FE when h = 0 nm (the dimer is on top of the waveguide) and h = 25 nm in vacuum (the same dimer location as in Case I), where the main effect on FE is the local dielectric constant. As determined from simulations, the 40nm PS-b-PMMA copolymer template both leads to higher FE and a redshift of the plasmon resonance with all other physical results remaining similar. In order to minimize computation time and explore a larger range of experimental parameters, in all the following studies about the effect of waveguide size, gap between the nanospheres, position and orientations of the dimer, we consider the dimer at h = 25 nm above the waveguide to be consistent with the vertical position of the experimental case (Case I) and we remove the thin layer to avoid the cost in computation time associated with the need to finely mesh the thin film to get accurate numerical results. The trends will be analogous to the Case I with thin layer shown in Fig. 1(b). Our goal is to show for the first time that this integrated technology is feasible for SERS and fluorescence spectroscopy as it generates the necessary field enhancement. One can only expect higher FE when incorporating the thin film in the experimental system.
As mentioned above, we consider our waveguide dimension as. The fabrication geometry is adopted from an experimental demonstration  with gold colloidal assembly for nonlinearity enhancement. The effect of changing the waveguide dimension on FE is shown in Fig. 7. In each case we assume the waveguide to be excited by only its first propagating mode which has a profile as shown in Fig. 3, Mode 1. In all cases, the vertical distance of dimer and waveguide surface (h) and the gap between the nanoantennas are kept constant (h = 25 nm and gap = 2 nm respectively) and we do not consider the thin layer for simplicity. Reducing the waveguide dimensions will indeed enhance the evanescent field and facilitate the delivery of power to the nanoantennas, however according to the results of Fig. 7, the FE as an antenna property which is the ratio of two electric fields, remained constant. Since FE is an antenna property as the result shows, we do not expect any significant FE change also for other small variations of the waveguide dimensions.
Until this point, we have simulated the case where a dimer nanoantenna is located exactly above the top center of the waveguide (x = 0) and the dimer’s gap is 2 nm, however in experimental systems based on colloidal deposition, dimers may be located at various places across the waveguide surface with potentially varying gap spacings. Therefore in the following analysis, we report the field enhancement, FE, versus frequency for various horizontal x-positions of the dimer and having different gap spacing in Figs. 8-9, respectively. Figure 8(a) shows the FE versus frequency from 400 to 620 THz when h and the gap are fixed at 25 nm and 2 nm and the dimer's horizontal position is varied, with the center of the dimer located at x = 0 (the center of the waveguide), 100, 200, and 400 nm, keeping in mind that the waveguide terminates at x = 500 nm; furthermore there is no thin dielectric layer and the waveguide is excited with its first propagating mode. Results in Fig. 8(a) show that when the waveguide is excited with its first propagating mode, the horizontal position of the dimer has negligible impact on the field enhancement level and the resonance frequency except for the position at x = 400 nm, i.e. where the dimer is closest to the edge of the waveguide. At the edge there is a slight decrease in enhancement level and a small increase in the resonant frequency. Figure 8(b) shows the E-field enhancement profile, in which is the magnitude of electric field at the dimer gap and is the average of magnitude of electric field in the absence of dimer at the waveguide surface (the waveguide surface is at y = 250 nm), versus dimer’s horizontal x-position when the waveguide is excited with its first propagating mode at the resonance frequency of 554 THz. As Fig. 8(b) represents, the best location for dimer is exactly above the center of waveguide, where according to the profile of mode 1, in Fig. 3., the electric field has its maximum x-component, and by increasing the distance of the dimer from x = 0, the E-field enhancement decreases. Figure 8 (c-d), represent the FE for different dimer locations along the x-direction, assuming also higher order modes are present in the waveguide. Figure 8(c) and 8(d) show the FE versus frequency from 540 to 570 THz for different horizontal dimer locations along the x-axis, x = 200 nm and x = 400 nm respectively, while the waveguide is selectively excited with its first five propagating modes and h = 25 nm and the gap is 2 nm. We expect that when the dimer is placed at a location with electric field polarized along the dimer gap, we get considerable field enhancement. According to Fig. 8(c) and 8(d), when we change the horizontal position of dimer, and excite the waveguide with its higher order modes, at locations that the electric field has an x-component (1st, 3rd, and 5th mode for the x = 200 nm case and 1st and 3th mode for the x = 400 nm case), we have as strong FE as we can get only with the first propagating mode.
In Fig. 9 FE versus frequency is reported for different gap sizes (2, 4, 6 and 10 nm). This figure shows that the highest field enhancement is obtained in case of a 2 nm gap. Increasing the gap size shifts the resonance frequency slightly (554, 565,567 and 567 THz for the gap size of 2, 4, 6 and 10 nm, respectively). As it can be noticed from results in Fig. 6, Fig. 8, and Fig. 9, the most critical parameter for FE is the gap size.
Depending on the procedure for depositing dimers on the waveguide surface, one does not have complete control on the orientation of the dimer axis on the x-z plane. Thus in Fig. 10(a-d), we investigate the effect of different dimer orientations (90, 60, 30, and 0 degrees with respect to the z-axis along the waveguide, respectively) on the field enhancements when h is 25 nm and the dimer is centered at x = 0. We assume that the first five propagating modes are present in the waveguide and we do not consider the thin dielectric layer. In the right panel of Fig. 10, the E-field profile in the x-z plane at the dimer location (h = 25 nm) at 554 THz is shown for the first five propagating modes. As expected, FE increases when the electric field of waveguide propagating mode is completely polarized along the dimer axis. In agreement with the E-field profile, when (Fig. 10(a), for dimer axis along x), Mode 1 and Mode 4 are completely polarized along x- axis at the dimer location, hence they generate the strongest FE. Whereas for (Fig. 10(d), the dimer axis is along z), Mode 3 is completely polarized along this dimer’s axis and generate the strongest FE. Note that the peaks are at the same frequency determined by the dimer’s resonance.
As mentioned in the Introduction, in a colloidal assembly deposition procedure, nanoantennas are randomly deposited on top of the waveguide surface. Also, in all the cases we study in this paper, we consider that the density of nanoantennas are low and they are separated from each other with enough distance to neglect the coupling effect between the studied dimer and other surrounded nanoantennas. Here to study the coupling effect, we consider some cases which consist of existence of other nanoantennas (monomer and dimer) at different distances and orientations from our main dimer in the absence of the thin dielectric layer and h = 25nm. Their coupling effect on field enhancement is shown in Fig. 11. In Fig. 11(a) the effect of the coupling between the considered dimer and another one at a given distance in the x-direction is shown, considering distances of 5 nm (Case 2) and 50 nm (Case 3), compared to the case of isolated dimer (Case 1). For Case 3 the FE is basically equal to that for Case 1, indicating that a distance of 50 nm is already large enough to neglect coupling (50 nm is approximately where is the wavelength of resonance frequency 554 THz of a dimer). For Case 2, coupling causes a larger FE than the isolated dimer (Case 1). Indeed, for Case 2 the other dimer is at a very short distance, comparable with the dimer’s gap. For a distance of 5 nm, which is approximately, the coupling effect exists and cannot be avoided, however for the studied case it generates larger enhancement. However, the possibility of having another nanoantenna very close to our dimer is very low according to the assumption of low density of nanoantennas. Previous work on particle assembly demonstrates that cluster surface coverage exceeding 40% are not physically achievable using the assembly method  but still large SERS is experimentally observed.
There are many possible coupling scenarios, and here we consider three other cases in Fig. 11 (b) with different distances and orientations of a monomer from the considered dimer, all compared to Case 1, the isolated dimer. Case 2 and Case 3 show a small increase of FE, that is consistent with the results in [25–27] for trimers, that show larger enhancement compared to dimers. Case 4 in Fig. 11(b) represents monomer nanoantenna with an orthogonal orientation with the considered dimer, and even at such small distance, the coupling effect is negligible.
3. Comparison with field enhancement by a nanoantenna excited by a plane wave
The proposed waveguide scenario for field enhancement is compared with the traditional one where nanoantennas on a surface are excited by an external beam. In , field enhancement resulting from various oligomer geometries of gold nanospheres, including dimers, were investigated on top of layered structure illuminated by an external plane wave. Here, we take the same vertical stack of materials and the dimer nanoantenna as in Section 2. and compare the field enhancement in the layered structure under a plane wave illumination from  and [47–49] with the waveguide-driven nanoantenna topology similar to that in Fig. 1. In Fig. 12. the simulated multilayer structure composed of (from bottom to up) glass, silicon nitride and vacuum is illustrated. The vertical distance between the bottom of the spheres and the top of the silicon nitride layer is denoted by h and the definition of the “gap” is the same as that in Section 2, shown in Fig. 12. The silicon nitride layer thickness is, i.e. equal to the waveguide thickness in Section 2. The two gold nanospheres have constant diameter and gap distance as those in Section 2 (23 nm and 2 nm, respectively). The polarization of normally incident wave is along the x direction as shown in Fig. 12. The normal plane wave incidence is simulated assuming plane wave excitation on a multilayer structure with size of in x-y plane (is 4 times of wavelength at 400 THz), and for glass thickness, and applying the software’s “open boundary condition”. In Fig. 12, we report the field enhancement for various h (0 nm, 5 nm and 25 nm) versus frequency ranging from 400 to 620 THz. Our simulation results show that by increasing the distance h, the resonance frequency slightly shifts to higher frequencies and field enhancement decreases monotonically, with enhancement levels dropping from 30 to 25. Here it is stressed that similar trends of enhancement levels and resonance frequencies are obtained in Fig. 6 for the waveguide-driven nanoantenna topology without considering the thin dielectric layer. Our simulation results for FE are in agreement with the findings in . However, there is a main differences between the interaction scenario in Fig. 1 and the more traditional one in  and in previous related work. Here instead of having a nanoantenna excited by an external light beam and its scattering collected by a lens with large numerical aperture which causes an expensive and bulky setup, we propose to have nanoantennas integrated with a silicon nitride waveguide, so we can excite the nanoantenna with an evanescent field from the waveguide and as a result our proposed structure may have advantages in terms of cost, integrability and volume occupancy.
Next, we assess the impact of the dielectric thin film as in Section 2. and we consider two types of the thin film formation cases as in Fig. 1. but considering plane wave excitation as in Fig. 12. In Fig. 13. we report the results for Cases I and II with the thin film and for the case without the thin dielectric film over the surface (but still with h = 25 nm) for both the waveguide-driven nanoantenna (solid curves) and the plane wave driven multilayer topologies (dashed curves). We observe that in all the cases, with and without the thin film both waveguide-driven and the plane wave driven structures provide the same field enhancement. On the other hand, when considering the cases with the thin film both waveguide-driven structure and the plane wave driven structure provide stronger field enhancement (102 and 82 for Case I and Case II, respectively). For both cases, the waveguide and plane wave driven structures, when the thin films are taken into account, the resonance frequency of the dimers shift to lower frequencies. Overall the waveguide-driven nanoantennas are able to provide similar trends and electric field enhancement, FE, levels to the plane wave driven structures.
In this paper we have proposed a configuration that provides strong electric field enhancement by placing colloidal plasmonic dimer nanoantennas on top of an integrated silicon nitride waveguide. We also considered the effect of a layer of PMMA and thioctic acid molecules which has been used previously for fabrication of dimers assembled from colloidal solution. It is significant that the presence of this polymer film results in an even stronger field enhancement due to an increase in dielectric constant. The results presented here demonstrate that a CMOS compatible waveguide geometry can yield strong field enhancement when inexpensive and chemically driven fabrication processes are adopted. While we consider only the excitation of colloidal nanoantennas in this paper, the results imply that scattering process by molecules in the nanoantenna gap would also generate the excitation of guided modes that can be eventually detected in silicon technology. Field enhancement of the proposed waveguide topology is analogous to that obtained with the more traditional open space topology with an external beam, with the advantage of integrability and size reduction for possible future economical integrated spectrometer systems.
National Science Foundation (NSF) (NSF-SNM-1449397.
We are grateful to CST Simulation Technology AG for letting us use the simulation tool CST Microwave Studio that was instrumental in this analysis.
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