Abstract

Polarization modulation of a tightly focused beam in a confocal imaging scheme is considered for incident and collected light fields. Rigorous vector wave theory of a confocal optical microscopy is developed, which provides clear physical pictures without the requirement for fragmentary calculations. Multiple spatial modulations on polarization, phase, or amplitude of the illuminating and the detected beams can be mathematically described by a uniform expression. Linear and nonlinear excitation schemes are derived with tailored excitation and detection fields within this generalized theory, whose results show that the ultimate resolution achieved with the linear excitation can reach one-fifth of the excitation wavelength (or λ/5), while the nonlinear excitation scheme gives rise to a resolution better than λ/12 for two-photon fluorescence excitation and λ/20 for three-photon fluorescence excitation. Hence the resolution of optical microscopy with a near-infrared excitation can routinely reach sub-60 nm. In addition, simulations for confocal laser scanning microscopy are carried out with the linear excitation scheme and the fluorescent one, respectively.

© 2016 Optical Society of America

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