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Light journeys unimpeded along material’s surface

Exotic etched glass could improve optics-based communications

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9:21am, April 11, 2013

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 10 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.”

Topological insulators have been a burgeoning area of condensed-matter physics since they were proposed in 2005 (SN: 5/22/10, p. 22). Typical materials are either conductors or insulators, but topological insulators such as bismuth telluride are exotic hybrids: The

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