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

Sci Adv. 2021 Apr 2;7(14):eabf2690. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.abf2690. Print 2021 Apr.


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.