By focusing femtosecond pulses on the front and rear surface of a fused silica coverslip, we desorb 8-nm thick polymer films at submicron scale. To determine the role of the substrate in the desorption process, we measure the threshold for nonlinear absorption in fused silica and compare it to the threshold for desorption, taking into account the enhancement of the field at the dielectric-air interface. The results indicate that absorption of energy only occurs in the film. We then measure the beam radius in situ by the knife-edge technique and characterize the desorption by atomic force microscopy. The radius of the laser desorbed area is determined by the desorption threshold intensity and can be a factor of 5 smaller than the beam waist.

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