We report the design, fabrication, and characterization of a periodic grating of shallow rectangular grooves in a metallic film with the goal of maximizing the coupling efficiency of an extended plane wave (PW) of visible or near-infrared light into a single surface plasmon polariton (SPP) mode on a flat metal surface. A PW-to-SPP power conversion factor >45% is demonstrated at a wavelength of 780 nm, which exceeds by an order of magnitude the experimental performance of SPP grating couplers reported to date at any wavelength. Conversion efficiency is maximized by matching the dissipative SPP losses along the grating surface to the local coupling strength. This critical coupling condition is experimentally achieved by tailoring the groove depth and width using a focused ion beam.
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