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

Achim Woessner, Mark B. Lundeberg, Yuanda Gao, Alessandro Principi, Pablo Alonso-González, Matteo Carrega, Kenji Watanabe, Takashi Taniguchi, Giovanni Vignale, Marco Polini, James Hone, Rainer Hillenbrand and Frank H. L. Koppens

Nature Materials 14, 421–425 (2014)
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.