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.
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