Zero-mode waveguides can be made better: fluorescence enhancement with rectangular aluminum nanoapertures from the visible to the deep ultraviolet†
Nanoapertures milled in metallic films called zero-mode waveguides (ZMWs) overcome the limitations of classical confocal microscopes by enabling single molecule analysis at micromolar concentrations with improved fluorescence brightness. While the ZMWs have found many applications in single molecule fluorescence studies, their shape has been mainly limited to be circular. Owing to the large parameter space to explore and the lack of guidelines, earlier attempts using more elaborate shapes have led to unclear conclusions whether or not the performance was improved as compared to a circular ZMW. Here, we comparatively analyze the performance of rectangular-shaped nanoapertures milled in aluminum to enhance the fluorescence emission rate of single molecules from the near infrared to the deep ultraviolet. Our new design is based on rational principles taking maximum advantage of the laser linear polarization. While the long edge of the nanorectangle is set to meet the cut-off size for the propagation of light into the nanoaperture, the short edge is reduced to 30 nm to accelerate the photodynamics while maintaining bright fluorescence rates. Our results show that both in the red and in the ultraviolet, the nanorectangles provide 50% brighter photon count rates as compared to the best performing circular ZMWs and achieve fluorescence lifetimes shorter than 300 ps. These findings can be readily used to improve the performance of ZMWs, especially for fast biomolecular dynamics, bright single-photon sources, and ultraviolet plasmonics.