Nature Communications

Image polaritons in boron nitride for extreme polariton confinement with low losses

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Polaritons in two-dimensional materials provide extreme light confinement that is difficult to achieve with metal plasmonics. However, such tight confinement inevitably increases optical losses through various damping channels. Here we demonstrate that hyperbolic phonon polaritons in hexagonal boron nitride can overcome this fundamental trade-off. Among two observed polariton modes, featuring a symmetric and antisymmetric charge distribution, the latter exhibits lower optical losses and tighter polariton confinement. Far-field excitation and detection of this high-momenta mode become possible with our resonator design that can boost the coupling efficiency via virtual polariton modes with image charges that we dub ‘image polaritons’. Using these image polaritons, we experimentally observe a record-high effective index of up to 132 and quality factors as high as 501. Further, our phenomenological theory suggests an important role of hyperbolic surface scattering in the damping process of hyperbolic phonon polaritons.