Nature Materials, Vol.20, No.1, 2021
Direct observation of highly confined phonon polaritons in suspended monolayer hexagonal boron nitride
Phonon polaritons enable light confinement at deep subwavelength scales, with potential technological applications, such as subdiffraction imaging, sensing and engineering of spontaneous emission. However, the trade-off between the degree of confinement and the excitation efficiency of phonon polaritons prevents direct observation of these modes in monolayer hexagonal boron nitride (h-BN), where they are expected to reach ultrahigh confinement. Here, we use monochromatic electron energy-loss spectroscopy (about 7.5 meV energy resolution) in a scanning transmission electron microscope to measure phonon polaritons in monolayer h-BN, directly demonstrating the existence of these modes as the phonon Reststrahlen band (RS) disappears. We find phonon polaritons in monolayer h-BN to exhibit high confinement (>487 times smaller wavelength than that of light in free space) and ultraslow group velocity down to about 10(-5)c. The large momentum compensation provided by electron beams additionally allows us to excite phonon polaritons over nearly the entire RS band of multilayer h-BN. These results open up a broad range of opportunities for the engineering of metasurfaces and strongly enhanced light-matter interactions. Monochromatic electron energy-loss spectroscopy enables the observation of highly confined and ultraslow hyperbolic phonon polaritons in suspended monolayer hexagonal boron nitride, expanding the potential of van der Waals materials for nanophotonic applications.