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Published August 15, 2005 | Published
Journal Article Open

Planar metal plasmon waveguides: frequency-dependent dispersion, propagation, localization, and loss beyond the free electron model


A numerical analysis of surface plasmon dispersion, propagation, and localization on smooth lossy films is presented. Particular attention is given to determining wavelength-dependent behavior of thin Ag slab waveguides embedded in a symmetric SiO2 environment. Rather than considering Ag as a damped free electron gas, the metal is defined by the experimentally determined optical constants of Johnson and Christy and Palik. As in free electron gas models, analytic dispersion results indicate a splitting of plasmon modes—corresponding to symmetric and antisymmetric field distributions—as film thickness is decreased below 50 nm. However, unlike free electron gas models, the surface plasmon wave vector remains finite at resonance with the antisymmetric-field plasmon converging to a pure photon mode for very thin films. In addition, allowed excitation modes are found to exist between the bound and radiative branches of the dispersion curve. The propagation characteristics of all modes are determined, and for thin films (depending upon electric field symmetry), propagation distances range from microns to centimeters in the near infrared. Propagation distances are correlated with both the field decay (skin depth) and energy density distribution in the metal and surrounding dielectric. While the energy density of most long-range surface plasmons exhibits a broad spatial extent with limited confinement in the waveguide, it is found that high-field confinement does not necessarily limit propagation. In fact, enhanced propagation is observed for silver films at ultraviolet wavelengths despite strong field localization in the metal. The surface plasmon characteristics described in this paper provide a numerical springboard for engineering nanoscale metal plasmon waveguides, and the results may provide a new avenue for integrated optoelectronic applications.

Additional Information

© 2005 The American Physical Society (Received 15 February 2005; revised 13 May 2005; published 2 August 2005) This work has benefited from numerous discussions with friends and colleagues, most particularly Jeroen Kalkman, Hans Mertens, Nhat Vu, and Adriaan Tip. Financial support at Caltech was provided by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, MURI Grant No. FA9550-04-1-0434. One of us (J.A.D.) acknowledges financial support from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense Army Research Office. Work at AMOLF is part of the research program of FOM and is financially supported by NWO. A.P. gratefully acknowledges the hospitality of the Atwater group during his sabbatical stay.

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August 22, 2023
October 13, 2023