The optical near-field of lithography-defined gold nanostructures, arranged into regular arrays on a gold film, is characterized via ablation of a polymer coating by laser illumination. The method utilizes femto-second laser pulses from a laser scanning microscope which induces electrical field enhancements on and around the gold nanostructures. At the positions of the enhancements, the ablation threshold of the polymer coating is significantly lowered creating subdiffractional topographic modifications on the surface which are quantified via scanning electron microscopy and atomic force microscopy. The obtained experimental results for different polymer coating thicknesses and nanostructure geometries are in good agreement with theoretical calculations of the near field distribution for corresponding enhancement mechanisms. The developed method and its tunable experimental parameters show that the different stages in the ablation process can be controlled and characterized making the technique suitable for characterizing optical near-fields of metal nanostructures.
near-field mapping, field enhancement, laser ablation, nanofabrication