Unzipping hBN with ultrashort mid-infrared pulses

Cecilia Y. Chen, Samuel L. Moore, Rishi Maiti, Jared S. Ginsberg, M. Mehdi Jadidi, Baichang Li, Sang Hoon Chae, Anjaly Rajendran, Gauri N. Patwardhan, Kenji Watanabe, Takashi Taniguchi, James Hone, D. N. Basov and Alexander L. Gaeta

Science Advances 10, 18 (2024)
Manipulating the nanostructure of materials is critical for numerous applications in electronics, magnetics, and photonics. However, conventional methods such as lithography and laser writing require cleanroom facilities or leave residue. We describe an approach to creating atomically sharp line defects in hexagonal boron nitride (hBN) at room temperature by direct optical phonon excitation with a mid-infrared pulsed laser from free space. We term this phenomenon “unzipping” to describe the rapid formation and growth of a crack tens of nanometers wide from a point within the laser-driven region. Formation of these features is attributed to the large atomic displacement and high local bond strain produced by strongly driving the crystal at a natural resonance. This process occurs only via coherent phonon excitation and is highly sensitive to the relative orientation of the crystal axes and the laser polarization. Its cleanliness, directionality, and sharpness enable applications such as polariton cavities, phonon-wave coupling, and in situ flake cleaving.