The objective of the present dissertation is to advance the science and engineering of metal-dielectric thin-film structures for ultrafast all-optical applications. The research presented consists of three parts: first, the linear and nonlinear optical (NLO) properties of Au and Ag/Au bilayer metallic thin films are comprehensively studied; then the design and properties of a novel nonlinear device structure are presented and finally an ultrafast all-optical shutter is developed and applications are discussed. In the first part, this study describes the linear and NLO properties of bilayer metallic films and shows that they can be tuned by controlling the mass-thickness ratio between Au and Ag. The combined properties of these bilayers are attractive for active plasmonic applications and nonlinear optical filters. Detailed physical models describing the linear and NLO response of Au and Ag/Au bilayers are presented and compared with experiments. In the second part, these models are used to optimize the NLO response of a novel Au-based NLO device. With only four layers, this novel device strongly amplifies the NLO response of the component Au thin film. NLO devices with broad spectral and angular bandwidths in the visible spectral region are demonstrated. The narrow band dependent NLO response of the NLO device is shown to lead to all-optical controls of high peak-power optical signal pulses. Finally, the NLO device technology is integrated into a novel ultrafast all-optical shutter, which allows temporal opening windows (the time shutter remains open) as short as a few ps. Ultrafast all-optical shutter potentially can temporally shape high peak-power nanosecond optical pulses, which could benefit biomedical and micromachining applications. Other possible optical applications such as short electron, X-ray pulse generations, ultrafast photography, and biomedical imaging will also be discussed.
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