We investigate the effect of the divergence of a Gaussian laser beam on the resonance curve and the sensitivity of optical sensors based on surface-plasmon resonance (SPR). For He–Ne laser beams it is found that, for beams with a waist radius of less than 300 µm, the SPR-curve characteristics differ appreciably from the case in which a plane wave is considered. Simple expressions for the sensitivity of (bio)chemical sensors are given. A simple Lorentzian model is used to estimate the maximum possible sensitivity when a multilayer system is used to enhance the resonance peak. It was found that the sensitivity can reach its highest value when the width of the SPR curve is equal to the laser-beam divergence. The results could be particularly important when a SPR curve is used to measure the absolute value of the refractive index of a sample or the dielectric constant and the thickness of a metal layer.
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