Enabling propagation of anisotropic polaritons along forbidden directions via a topological transition

J. Duan, G. Álvarez-Pérez, K. V. Voronin, I. Prieto, J. Taboada-Gutiérrez, V. S. Volkov, J. Martín-Sánchez, A. Y. Nikitin and P. Alonso-González

Science Advances 7, eabf2690 (2021)
Polaritons with directional in-plane propagation and ultralow losses in van der Waals (vdW) crystals promise unprecedented manipulation of light at the nanoscale. However, these polaritons present a crucial limitation: their directional propagation is intrinsically determined by the crystal structure of the host material, imposing forbidden directions of propagation. Here, we demonstrate that directional polaritons (in-plane hyperbolic phonon polaritons) in a vdW crystal (α-phase molybdenum trioxide) can be directed along forbidden directions by inducing an optical topological transition, which emerges when the slab is placed on a substrate with a given negative permittivity (4H–silicon carbide). By visualizing the transition in real space, we observe exotic polaritonic states between mutually orthogonal hyperbolic regimes, which unveil the topological origin of the transition: a gap opening in the dispersion. This work provides insights into optical topological transitions in vdW crystals, which introduce a route to direct light at the nanoscale.