We report on a method for surface plasmon resonance (SPR) refractive index sensing based on direct time-domain measurements. An optical resonator is built around an SPR sensor, and its photon lifetime is measured as a function of loss induced by refractive index variations. The method does not rely on any spectroscopic analysis or direct intensity measurement. Time-domain measurements are practically immune to light intensity fluctuations and thus lead to high resolution. A proof of concept experiment is carried out in which a sensor response to liquid samples of different refractive indices is measured. A refractive index resolution of the current system, extrapolated from the reproducibility of cavity-decay time determinations over 133 s, is found to be about . The possibility of long-term averaging suggests that measurements with a resolution better than are within reach.
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