We manufactured an array of three angstrom-wide, five millimeter-long van der Waals gaps of copper-graphene-copper composite, in which unprecedented nonlinearity was observed. To probe and manipulate van der Waals gaps with long wavelength electromagnetic waves such as terahertz waves, one is required to fabricate vertically oriented van der Waals gaps sandwiched between two metal planes with an infinite length in the sense of being much larger than any of the wavelengths used. By comparison with the simple vertical stacking of metal-graphene-metal structure, in our structure, background signals are completely blocked enabling all the light to squeeze through the gap without any strays.
When the angstrom-sized van der Waals gaps are irradiated with intense terahertz pulses, the transient voltage across the gap reaches up to 5 V with saturation, sufficiently strong to deform the quantum barrier of angstrom gaps. The large transient potential difference across the gap facilitates electron tunneling through the quantum barrier, blocking terahertz waves completely. This negative feedback of electron tunneling leads to colossal nonlinear optical response, a 97% decrease in the normalized transmittance.
Our technology for infinitely long van der Waals gaps can be utilized for other atomically thin materials than single layer graphene, enabling linear and nonlinear angstrom optics in a broad spectral range.