Modeling Photonic Topological Insulators

Guest_Jim_* - December 26, 2012 07:45AM in Science & Technology

One thing that always seems to be true in science is that whenever we think we know some general fact is correct, a counter-example appears. For example scientists believed for some time that all solid materials could be classified as an insulator, conductor, or semiconductor, but then topological insulators were discovered and they break the traditional rules. Now researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have successfully designed a model for photonic topological insulators, which is important if we are to ever understand these strange materials.

Topological insulators exemplify the idea of not judging a book by its cover as the surface is a conductor while the volume is an insulator. This causes some very unique properties to manifest and these may prove instrumental in creating quantum computers and more. The problem is no one completely understands why these materials have this electrical behavior, which is where the model comes in. The virtual topological insulator it uses can be manipulated to the point of explaining why real topological insulators behave as they do.

Potentially the knowledge gained from this simulation could enable the design of communication systems without interference between multiple antennae. If the knowledge is successfully extended to electronic topological insulators, which the researchers have taken steps to make possible, it enable similar interference-free communication within a quantum computer.