Optical imaging and photolithography promise broad applications in nano-electronics, metrologies, and single-molecule biology. Light diffraction however sets a fundamental limit on optical resolution, and it poses a critical challenge to the down-scaling of nano-scale manufacturing. Surface plasmons have been used to circumvent the diffraction limit as they have shorter wavelengths. However, this approach has a trade-off between resolution and energy efficiency that arises from the substantial momentum mismatch. Here we report a novel multi-stage scheme that is capable of efficiently compressing the optical energy at deep sub-wavelength scales through the progressive coupling of propagating surface plasmons (PSPs) and localized surface plasmons (LSPs). Combining this with airbearing surface technology, we demonstrate a plasmonic lithography with 22 nm half-pitch resolution at scanning speeds up to 10 m/s. This low-cost scheme has the potential of higher throughput than current photolithography, and it opens a new approach towards the next generation semiconductor manufacturing.
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