Identification of weak molecular absorption in single-wavelength s-SNOM images

Iris Niehues, Lars Mester, Edoardo Vicentini, Daniel Wigger, Martin Schnell and Rainer Hillenbrand

Optics Express 31, 7012 (2023)
Scattering-type scanning near-field optical microscopy (s-SNOM) allows for nanoscale optical mapping of manifold material properties. It is based on interferometric recording of the light scattered at a scanning probe tip. For dielectric samples such as biological materials or polymers, the near-field amplitude and phase signals of the scattered field reveal the local reflectivity and absorption, respectively. Importantly, absorption in s-SNOM imaging corresponds to a positive phase contrast relative to a non-absorbing reference sample. Here, we describe that in certain conditions (weakly or non- absorbing material placed on a highly reflective substrate), a slight negative phase contrast may be observed, which can hinder the recognition of materials exhibiting a weak infrared absorption. We first document this effect and explore its origin using representative test samples. We then demonstrate straightforward simple correction methods that remove the negative phase contrast and that allow for the identification of weak absorption contrasts.