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Note: Research in this publication was not performed at Janelia.
Luminescent centers with sharp (<0.07 millielectron volt), spectrally distinct emission lines were imaged in a GaAs/AIGaAs quantum well by means of low-temperature near-field scanning optical microscopy. Temperature, magnetic field, and linewidth measurements establish that these centers arise from excitons laterally localized at interface fluctuations. For sufficiently narrow wells, virtually all emission originates from such centers. Near-field microscopy/spectroscopy provides a means to access energies and homogeneous line widths for the individual eigenstates of these centers, and thus opens a rich area of physics involving quantum resolved systems.
Commentary: Harald Hess and I joined forces, combining my near-field optical technology with his cryogenic scanned probe microscope to produce the first paper on high resolution spectroscopy beyond the diffraction limit. We discovered that the broad luminescence spectrum traditionally observed from quantum well heterostructures reflects a resolution-limited ensemble average of emission from numerous discrete sites of exciton recombination occurring at atomic-scale corrugations in the confining interfaces. With the combination of high spatial resolution from near-field excitation and high spectral resolution from cryogenic operation, we were able to isolate these emission sites in a multidimensional space of xy position and wavelength, even though their density was too great to isolate them on the basis of spatial resolution alone. This insight was very influential in the genesis of the concept (see above) that would eventually lead to far-field superresolution by PALM.