Polaritons in van der Waals materials

D. N. Basov, M. M. Fogler and F. J. Garcia De Abajo

Science 354 (2016)
Light trapped at the nanoscale, deep below the optical wavelength, exhibits an increase in the associated electric field strength, which results in enhanced light-matter interaction. This leads to strong nonlinearities, large photonic forces, and enhanced emission and absorption probabilities. A practical approach toward nanoscale light trapping and manipulation is offered by interfaces separating media with permittivities of opposite signs. Such interfaces sustain hybrid light-matter modes involving collective oscillations of polarization charges in matter, hence the term polaritons. Surface plasmon polaritons, supported by electrons in metals, constitute a most-studied prominent example. Yet there are many other varieties of polaritons, including those formed by atomic vibrations in polar insulators, excitons in semiconductors, Cooper pairs in superconductors, and spin resonances in (anti)ferromagnets. Together, they span a broad region of the electromagnetic spectrum, ranging from microwave to ultraviolet wavelengths. We discuss polaritons in van der Waals (vdW) materials: layered systems in which individual atomic planes are bonded by weak vdW attraction (see the figure). This class of quantum materials includes graphene and other two-dimensional crystals. In artificial structures assembled from dissimilar vdW atomic layers, polaritons associated with different constituents can interact to produce unique optical effects by design.