Stimulated emission depletion microscopy with optical fibers
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Imaging at the nanoscale and/or at remote locations holds great promise for studies in fields as disparate as the life sciences and materials sciences. One such microscopy technique, stimulated emission depletion (STED) microscopy, is one of several fluorescence based imaging techniques that offers resolution beyond the diffraction-limit. All current implementations of STED microscopy, however, involve the use of free-space beam shaping devices to achieve the Gaussian- and donut-shaped Orbital Angular Momentum (OAM) carrying beams at the desired colors –-- a challenging prospect from the standpoint of device assembly and mechanical stability during operation. A fiber-based solution could address these engineering challenges, and perhaps more interestingly, it may facilitate endoscopic implementation of in vivo STED imaging, a prospect that has thus far not been realized because optical fibers were previously considered to be incapable of transmitting the OAM beams that are necessary for STED. In this thesis, we investigate fiber-based STED systems to enable endoscopic nanoscale imaging. We discuss the design and characteristics of a novel class of fibers supporting and stably propagating Gaussian and OAM modes. Optimization of the design parameters leads to stable excitation and depletion beams propagating in the same fiber in the visible spectral range, for the first time, with high efficiency (>99%) and mode purity (>98%). Using the fabricated vortex fiber, we demonstrate an all-fiber STED system with modes that are tolerant to perturbations, and we obtain naturally self-aligned PSFs for the excitation and depletion beams. Initial experiments of STED imaging using our device yields a 4-fold improvement in lateral resolution compared to confocal imaging. In an experiment in parallel, we show the means of using q-plates as free-space mode converters that yield alignment tolerant STED microscopy systems at wavelengths covering the entire visible spectrum, and hence dyes of interest in such imaging schematics. Our study indicates that the vortex fiber is capable of providing an all-fiber platform for STED systems, and for other imaging systems where the exploitation of spatio-spectral beam shaping is required.