Magazine article Science News

Etched Glass Lets Light Pass Around: Optical Topological Insulator Transparent on Surface Only

Magazine article Science News

Etched Glass Lets Light Pass Around: Optical Topological Insulator Transparent on Surface Only

Article excerpt

Throw some electrons onto the surface of a topological insulator and they seemingly become invincible, effortlessly bypassing obstructions along their route. Now researchers have crafted a structure that empowers particles of light to do the same thing. The first demonstration of a topological insulator for photons, reported April 11 in Nature, could lead to improved optical transmissions that are crucial for global communication.

"I think it's wonderful," says Michal Lipson, a physicist at Cornell University who was not involved with the study. "The light goes right around any obstacles, which is pretty remarkable."

Materials are typically either conductors or insulators, but topological insulators such as bismuth telluride are exotic hybrids: They block electric current in their interiors yet allow electrons to flow along their surfaces.

What's more, these surface electrons can move unimpeded through bumps and grooves that would normally block their path. That useful property makes topological insulators intriguing candidates for future electronics.

The ability to enable electrons to surf along the surface and avoid obstacles is so enticing that some physicists have investigated whether other particles, particularly photons, could do the same thing. Electrons flow through chips in computers and smartphones, while photons are the information carriers that enable high-speed communication over fiber-optic cables. One key to faster, more efficient communication networks is minimizing the scattering of photons when they encounter obstacles. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.