Time-resolved scanning Kerr microscopy (TRSKM) is a powerful technique for the investigation of picosecond magnetization dynamics at sub-micron length scales by means of the magneto-optical Kerr effect (MOKE). The spatial resolution of conventional (focused) Kerr microscopy using a microscope objective lens is determined by the optical diffraction limit so that the nanoscale character of the magnetization dynamics is lost. Here we present a platform to overcome this limitation by means of a near-field TRSKM that incorporates an atomic force microscope (AFM) with optical access to a metallic AFM probe with a nanoscale aperture at its tip. We demonstrate the near-field capability of the instrument through the comparison of time-resolved polar Kerr images of magnetization dynamics within a microscale NiFe rectangle acquired using both near-field and focused TRSKM techniques at a wavelength of 800 nm. The flux-closure domain state of the in-plane equilibrium magnetization provided the maximum possible dynamic polar Kerr contrast across the central domain wall and enabled an assessment of the magneto-optical spatial resolution of each technique. Line profiles extracted from the Kerr images demonstrate that the near-field spatial resolution was enhanced with respect to that of the focused Kerr images. Furthermore, the near-field polar Kerr signal (∼1 mdeg) was more than half that of the focused Kerr signal, despite the potential loss of probe light due to internal reflections within the AFM tip. We have confirmed the near-field operation by exploring the influence of the tip-sample separation and have determined the spatial resolution to be ∼550 nm for an aperture with a sub-wavelength diameter of 400 nm. The spatial resolution of the near-field TRSKM was in good agreement with finite element modeling of the aperture. Large amplitude electric field along regions of the modeled aperture that lie perpendicular to the incident polarization indicate that the aperture can support plasmonic excitations. The comparable near-field and focused polar Kerr signals suggest that such plasmonic excitations may lead to an enhanced near-field MOKE. This work demonstrates that near-field TRSKM can be performed without significant diminution of the polar Kerr signal in relatively large, sub-wavelength diameter apertures, while development of a near-field AFM probe utilizing plasmonic antennas specifically designed for measurements deeper into the nanoscale is discussed.
MFM phase contrast images were acquired using the LensAFM with NanoWorld MFMR probes with a 40 nm thick cobalt alloy layer deposited on the tip side. The relative tip position from the rectangle surface was 300 nm and the free vibration amplitude was 100 mV. These parameters were set to achieve negligible disturbance of the domain wall structure within the NiFe rectangle.