In this Letter, we study the scattering of light by a single subwavelength slit in a metal screen. In contrast with previous theoretical works, we provide a microscopic description of the scattering process by emphasizing the generation of surface plasmons at the slit apertures. The analysis is supported by a rigorous formalism based on a normal-mode-decomposition technique and by a semianalytical model that provides accurate formulas for the plasmonic generation strengths. The generation is shown to be fairly efficient for metals with a low conductivity, such as gold in the visible regime. Verification of the theory is also shown by comparison with recent experimental data [H. F. Schouten, Phys. Rev. Lett. 94, 053901 (2005)].
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