Optical Anisotropy in van der Waals materials: Impact on Direct Excitation of Plasmons and Photons by Quantum Tunneling

Zhe Wang, Vijith Kalathingal*, Thanh Xuan Hoang, Hong Son Chu, Christian A. Nijhuis*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Inelastic quantum mechanical tunneling of electrons across plasmonic tunnel junctions can lead to surface plasmon polariton (SPP) and photon emission. So far, the optical properties of such junctions have been controlled by changing the shape, or the type of the material, of the electrodes, primarily with the aim to improve SPP or photon emission efficiencies. Here we show that by tuning the tunneling barrier itself, the efficiency of the inelastic tunneling rates can be improved by a factor of 3. We exploit the anisotropic nature of hexagonal boron nitride (hBN) as the tunneling barrier material in Au//hBN//graphene tunnel junctions where the Au electrode also serves as a plasmonic strip waveguide. As this junction constitutes an optically transparent hBN–graphene heterostructure on a glass substrate, it forms an open plasmonic system where the SPPs are directly coupled to the dedicated strip waveguide and photons outcouple to the far field. We experimentally and analytically show that the photon emission rate per tunneling electron is significantly improved (~ ×3) in Au//hBN//graphene tunnel junction due to the enhancement in the local density of optical states (LDOS) arising from the hBN anisotropy. With the dedicated strip waveguide, SPP outcoupling efficiency is quantified and is found to be ∼ 80% stronger than the radiative outcoupling in Au//hBN//graphene due to the high LDOS of the SPP decay channel associated with the inelastic tunneling. The new insights elucidated here deepen our understanding of plasmonic tunnel junctions beyond the isotropic models with enhanced LDOS.

Original languageEnglish
Article number230
JournalLight: Science and Applications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


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