Swift electrons generate coherent transition radiation (TR) when crossing a material surface, as well as surface plasmon polaritons (SPPs) when the material is metallic. We present analytical and numerical calculations that describe the time- and space-dependent electric fields of TR and SPPs induced by 30–300 keV electrons on a Drude metal surface. The generated SPPs form wave packets a few-hundred femtoseconds in duration, depending on the material permittivity. High-frequency components close to the plasmon resonance are strongly damped, causing the wave packets to shift to lower frequencies as they propagate further. TR is emitted to the far field as ultrashort wave packets consisting of just a few optical cycles, with an intensity and angle dependence that is determined by the material permittivity. The excitation reaches its peak amplitude within a few femtoseconds and then drops off strongly for longer times. From a correlation between material permittivity and the calculated emission behavior, we determine qualitative predictions of the TR evolution for any given material. The results presented here provide key insights into the mechanisms enabling swift electrons to serve as nanoscale optical excitation sources.

Phys. Rev. B
Photonic Materials

Brenny, B., Polman, A., & García de Abajo, J. (2016). Femtosecond plasmon and photon wave packets excited by a high-energy electron on a metal or dielectric surface. Phys. Rev. B, 94(15, Article number: 155412), 1–11. doi:10.1103/PhysRevB.94.155412