Probing the ultimate plasmon confinement limits with a van der Waals heterostructure

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Science  20 Apr 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6386, pp. 291-295
DOI: 10.1126/science.aar8438

Light confined to a single atomic layer

The development of nanophotonic technology is reliant on the ability to confine light to spatial dimensions much less than the wavelength of the light itself. Typically, however, in metal plasmonic approaches, there is a trade-off between confinement and losses. Alcaraz Iranzo et al. fabricated heterostructures comprising monolayers of graphene and hexagonal boron nitride (hBN) and an array of metallic rods. The light was confined vertically (as propagating plasmons) between the metal and the graphene, even when the insulating hBN spacer was just a single monolayer. Such heterostructures should provide a powerful and versatile platform for nanophotonics.

Science, this issue p. 291


The ability to confine light into tiny spatial dimensions is important for applications such as microscopy, sensing, and nanoscale lasers. Although plasmons offer an appealing avenue to confine light, Landau damping in metals imposes a trade-off between optical field confinement and losses. We show that a graphene-insulator-metal heterostructure can overcome that trade-off, and demonstrate plasmon confinement down to the ultimate limit of the length scale of one atom. This is achieved through far-field excitation of plasmon modes squeezed into an atomically thin hexagonal boron nitride dielectric spacer between graphene and metal rods. A theoretical model that takes into account the nonlocal optical response of both graphene and metal is used to describe the results. These ultraconfined plasmonic modes, addressed with far-field light excitation, enable a route to new regimes of ultrastrong light-matter interactions.

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