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Highly confined low-loss plasmons in graphene–boron nitride heterostructures

Abstract

Graphene plasmons were predicted to possess simultaneous ultrastrong field confinement and very low damping, enabling new classes of devices for deep-subwavelength metamaterials, single-photon nonlinearities, extraordinarily strong light–matter interactions and nano-optoelectronic switches. Although all of these great prospects require low damping, thus far strong plasmon damping has been observed, with both impurity scattering and many-body effects in graphene proposed as possible explanations. With the advent of van der Waals heterostructures, new methods have been developed to integrate graphene with other atomically flat materials. In this Article we exploit near-field microscopy to image propagating plasmons in high-quality graphene encapsulated between two films of hexagonal boron nitride (h-BN). We determine the dispersion and plasmon damping in real space. We find unprecedentedly low plasmon damping combined with strong field confinement and confirm the high uniformity of this plasmonic medium. The main damping channels are attributed to intrinsic thermal phonons in the graphene and dielectric losses in the h-BN. The observation and in-depth understanding of low plasmon damping is the key to the development of graphene nanophotonic and nano-optoelectronic devices.

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Figure 1: Device and plasmon imaging with s-SNOM.
Figure 2: Optical signal and plasmon wavelength dependence on carrier density and photon energy.
Figure 3: Extraction of plasmon damping.
Figure 4: Plasmon damping mechanisms.

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Acknowledgements

It is a great pleasure to thank J. D. Caldwell, J. García de Abajo, A. Tomadin and L. Levitov for many useful discussions. This work used open source software (www.matplotlib.org, www.python.org). F.H.L.K. acknowledges support by the Fundacio Cellex Barcelona, the ERC Career integration grant 294056 (GRANOP), the ERC starting grant 307806 (CarbonLight), and support by EU project GRASP (FP7-ICT-2013-613024-GRASP). F.H.L.K., M.P. and R.H. acknowledge support by the EU under Graphene Flagship (contract no. CNECT-ICT-604391). A.P. and G.V. acknowledge DOE grant DE-FG02-05ER46203 and a Research Board Grant at the University of Missouri. M.P. and M.C. acknowledge support by the Italian Ministry of Education, Universities and Research (MIUR) through the programme ‘FIRB – Futuro in Ricerca’, Project PLASMOGRAPH (Grant No. RBFR10M5BT) and Project HybridNanoDev (Grant No. RBFR1236VV). M.P. also acknowledges support by the MIUR through the programme ‘Progetti Premiali 2012’ – Project ABNANOTECH. R.H. acknowledges support by the ERC starting grant 258461 (TERATOMO) and the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (National Project MAT2012-36580). Y.G. and J.H. acknowledge support from the US Office of Naval Research N00014-13-1-0662.

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Contributions

A.W. and M.B.L. performed the experiments, discussed the results and wrote the manuscript. Y.G. fabricated the samples. A.P., M.P., G.V. and M.C. provided the theory on different loss mechanisms. P.A-G. helped with measurements. K.W. and T.T. synthesized the h-BN samples. G.V., M.P., J.H., R.H. and F.H.L.K. supervised the work, discussed the results and co-wrote the manuscript. All authors contributed to the scientific discussion and manuscript revisions.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to 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 ones used in this study. All other authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Woessner, A., Lundeberg, M., Gao, Y. et al. Highly confined low-loss plasmons in graphene–boron nitride heterostructures. Nature Mater 14, 421–425 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/nmat4169

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