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This thesis further explores the possibilities of scanning near-field optical microscopy (SNOM) in both materials and life sciences. Two experimental SNOM setups were developed: one designed for infrared spectroscopy applications and the other for the imaging of fluorescently labeled samples. The results of the experiments that were conducted with both setups are presented and analyzed in this thesis. Diffraction limits the resolution of lens-based microscopes to a value close to that of the wavelength of the light that is used to illuminate the samples. SNOM instruments overcome this limit by probing the near-field light — the light that remains within close vicinity of the sample and decays exponentially away from it. The SNOM concept and instrumental design are described. A comparison of SNOM with other novel microscopies (electron, atomic force, and scanning tunneling microscopies) outlines the main advantages of SNOM — the sole optical microscopy technique with a nanometer resolution. Aperture-based infrared SNOM (IR-SNOM), performed in the spectroscopic mode using the Vanderbilt University free electron laser, recently started delivering spatially resolved information on the distribution of chemical species and on other laterally fluctuating properties. The IR-SNOM combines the IR spectroscopy's chemical specificity and the SNOM's high optical and topographical resolutions. The IR-SNOM experimental setup is described in detail and results from the study of cells, boron nitride and lithium fluoride thin films are presented and analyzed. They demonstrate the great potential of this new technique. An overview of the development of IR-SNOM, as well as a consideration of its future possibilities are presented. The newly built SNOM instrument at EPFL was used for experiments that are complementary to the aforementioned IR-SNOM experiments. Specifically, the new SNOM enabled the study of fluorescently marked samples. Images of fluorescently labeled cells and carbon nanotubes are presented and analyzed. The results further demonstrate the exciting possibilities of SNOM.