Every materials has special properties that arise from its composition, size, and shape, and for that reason the ability to measure those three characteristics is very valuable. Researchers at NIST have recently devised a new method to make those measurements simultaneously by taking advantage of plasmonic effects.
Plasmonics is a branch of physics that deals with light and matter interacting in specific ways, as plasmonic materials are able to couple photons and electrons to form plasmons. The researchers have taken advantage of this by building plasmonic nanostructures on top of a sample they wish to study. When an infrared laser shines on the sample, the nanostructures enhance the absorption of the light by the sample by as much as 30 times. This causes changes in the sample that an atomic force microscope is able to measure.
An important advantage of this technique over others is how straightforward its results are. Other methods can affect the material being analyzed, making it necessary to separate the response of the sample from the response of the probe. This method does not require those additional steps, simplifying the work.