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Optical nano-imaging of gate-tunable graphene plasmons


The ability to manipulate optical fields and the energy flow of light is central to modern information and communication technologies, as well as quantum information processing schemes. However, because photons do not possess charge, a way of controlling them efficiently by electrical means has so far proved elusive. A promising way to achieve electric control of light could be through plasmon polaritons—coupled excitations of photons and charge carriers—in graphene1,2,3,4,5. In this two-dimensional sheet of carbon atoms6, it is expected that plasmon polaritons and their associated optical fields can readily be tuned electrically by varying the graphene carrier density. Although evidence of optical graphene plasmon resonances has recently been obtained spectroscopically7,8, no experiments so far have directly resolved propagating plasmons in real space. Here we launch and detect propagating optical plasmons in tapered graphene nanostructures using near-field scattering microscopy with infrared excitation light9,10,11. We provide real-space images of plasmon fields, and find that the extracted plasmon wavelength is very short—more than 40 times smaller than the wavelength of illumination. We exploit this strong optical field confinement to turn a graphene nanostructure into a tunable resonant plasmonic cavity with extremely small mode volume. The cavity resonance is controlled in situ by gating the graphene, and in particular, complete switching on and off of the plasmon modes is demonstrated, thus paving the way towards graphene-based optical transistors. This successful alliance between nanoelectronics and nano-optics enables the development of active subwavelength-scale optics and a plethora of nano-optoelectronic devices and functionalities, such as tunable metamaterials12, nanoscale optical processing, and strongly enhanced light–matter interactions for quantum devices13 and biosensing applications.

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Figure 1: Imaging propagating and localized graphene plasmons by scattering-type SNOM.
Figure 2: Controlling the plasmon wavelength over a wide range.
Figure 3: Comparison of theoretical model with experimental results.
Figure 4: Plasmonic switching and active control of the plasmon wavelength by electrical gating.


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We thank L. Novotny, N. van Hulst, R. Quidant and P. Jarillo-Herrero for discussions. This work was supported in part by the Fundacicio Cellex Barcelona, the Spanish MICINN (MAT2010-14885 and Consolider, the European FP7 projects FP7-HEALTH-F5-2009-241818-NANOANTENNA, FP7-ICT- 2009-4-248909-LIMA and FP7-ICT-2009-4-248855-N4E, the ERC Starting grant no. 258461 (TERATOMO), and the ERC Career integration grant GRANOP.

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Authors and Affiliations



J.C., P.A.-G., F.H., F.H.L.K. and R.H. carried out the near-field imaging experiments and participated in data analysis. M.S. participated in data analysis. S.T. and F.J.G.d.A. contributed to the interpretation of the data and developed analytical and computational theoretical tools. N.C., P.G., A.C., A.P. and A.Z.E. provided materials. M.B. and J.O. fabricated the devices. J.G.d.A., R.H. and F.H.L.K. wrote the manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to F. Javier García de Abajo, Rainer Hillenbrand or Frank H. L. Koppens.

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Competing interests

R.H. is co-founder of Neaspec GmbH, a company producing scattering-type scanning near-field optical microscope systems, such as the one used in this study. All other authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Chen, J., Badioli, M., Alonso-González, P. et al. Optical nano-imaging of gate-tunable graphene plasmons. Nature 487, 77–81 (2012).

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