Metallic nanostructures are one of the most versatile tools available for manipulating light at the nanoscale. These nanostructures support surface plasmons, which are collective excitations of the conduction electrons that can exist as propagating waves at a metallic interface or as localized excitations of a nanoparticle or nanostructure. Plasmonic structures can efficiently couple energy from freely propagating electromagnetic waves to localized electromagnetic fields and vice-versa, essentially acting as an optical antenna. As a result, the intensity of the local fields around and inside the nanostructure are strongly enhanced compared to the incident radiation.
In this thesis, this ability to manipulate electromagnetic fields on the nanoscale is employed to control a wide range of optical phenomena. These studies are performed using structures based on metallic nanoshells, which consist of a thin Au shell coating a silica nanosphere. To investigate the parameters controlling the plasmonic response of metallic nanoshells, two changes to the nanoshell composition are studied: (1) the Au shell is replaced with Cu which has interband transitions that strongly influence the plasmon resonance, and (2) the silica core is replaced by a semiconducting Cu 2O core which has a significantly higher dielectric constant and non-trivial absorbance. The focusing of electromagnetic energy into intense local fields by plasmonic nanostructures is then directly investigated by profiling the nanoshell near field using a Raman-based molecular ruler. Next, plasmons supported by Au nanoshells are used to control the fluorescence of near-infrared fluorophores placed at controlled distances from the nanoshell surface. In this context, the analogy of an optical antenna is very relevant: the enhanced field at the surface of the nanoshell increases the absorption of light by the fluorophore, or equivalently couples propagating electromagnetic waves into a localized receiver, while the large scattering cross section enhances the coupling of energy from a localized source, the fluorophore, to far-field radiation. Excellent agreement with models based on Mie theory is achieved for both Raman and fluorescence. Experimentally measured enhancements of the radiative decay rate for fluorophores on Au nanoshells and Au nanorods are also consistent with this model. Plasmonic nanostructures can also control the flow of light into larger structures. This is observed by measuring the nanoparticle-induced enhancement and suppression of photocurrent in a silicon photodiode is at the single particle level for silica nanospheres, Au nanospheres, and two types of Au nanoshell Finally, the simultaneous physical manipulation of an individual plasmonic nanostructure on the few-nanometer scale using light and detection of the local electromagnetic field during this ongoing process with the same incident beam is performed. For this experiment, a Au nanoshell is separated from a metallic surface by a few-nanometer thick polymer layer to form a nanoscale junction, or nanogap Illuminating this structure with ultrashort optical pulses, exciting the plasmon resonance, results in a continuous, monitorable collapse of the nanogap. An easily detectable four-wave mixing (FWM) signal is simultaneously generated by this illumination of the nanogap, providing a continuous, highly sensitive optical monitor of the nanogap spacing while it is being optically reduced. The dramatic increase in this signal upon contact provides a clear, unambiguous signal of the gap closing.