Recovering tiny nanoscale features using a general optical imaging system is challenging because of poor signal to noise ratio. Rayleigh scattering implies that the detectable signal of an object of size d illuminated by light of wavelength λ is proportional to d 6 /λ 4 , which may be several orders of magnitude weaker than that of additive and multiplicative perturbations in the background. In this article, we solve this fundamental issue by introducing the regularized pseudo-phase, an observation quantity for polychromatic visible light microscopy that seems to be more sensitive than conventional intensity images for characterizing nanoscale features. We achieve a significant improvement in signal to noise ratio without making any changes to the imaging hardware. In addition, this framework not only retains the advantages of conventional denoising techniques, but also endows this new measurand (i.e., the pseudo-phase) with an explicit physical meaning analogous to optical phase. Experiments on a NIST reference material 8820 sample demonstrate that we can measure nanoscale defects, minute amounts of tilt in patterned samples, and severely noise-polluted nanostructure profiles with the pseudo-phase framework even when using a low-cost bright-field microscope.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics