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Observation of unidirectional backscattering-immune topological electromagnetic states


One of the most striking phenomena in condensed-matter physics is the quantum Hall effect, which arises in two-dimensional electron systems1,2,3,4 subject to a large magnetic field applied perpendicular to the plane in which the electrons reside. In such circumstances, current is carried by electrons along the edges of the system, in so-called chiral edge states (CESs). These are states that, as a consequence of nontrivial topological properties of the bulk electronic band structure, have a unique directionality and are robust against scattering from disorder. Recently, it was theoretically predicted5,6,7 that electromagnetic analogues of such electronic edge states could be observed in photonic crystals, which are materials having refractive-index variations with a periodicity comparable to the wavelength of the light passing through them. Here we report the experimental realization and observation of such electromagnetic CESs in a magneto-optical photonic crystal7 fabricated in the microwave regime. We demonstrate that, like their electronic counterparts8,9,10,11,12,13, electromagnetic CESs can travel in only one direction and are very robust against scattering from disorder; we find that even large metallic scatterers placed in the path of the propagating edge modes do not induce reflections. These modes may enable the production of new classes of electromagnetic device and experiments that would be impossible using conventional reciprocal photonic states alone. Furthermore, our experimental demonstration and study of photonic CESs provides strong support for the generalization and application of topological band theories to classical and bosonic systems, and may lead to the realization and observation of topological phenomena in a generally much more controlled and customizable fashion than is typically possible with electronic systems.

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Figure 1: Microwave waveguide supporting CESs.
Figure 2: Photonic CESs and effects of a large scatterer.
Figure 3: CES-facilitated waveguiding in a photonic crystal.
Figure 4: CES transmission spectra in the presence of a large scatterer.


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We are very grateful to P. Fisher and U. J. Becker for generously providing access to the synchrotron magnet at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. We should like to thank I. Chuang, P. Bermel, J. Bravo-Abad, S. Johnson and P. Rakich for comments. This work was supported in part by the Materials Research Science and Engineering Program of the US National Science Foundation under award number DMR-0819762, and also in part by the US Army Research Office through the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies under contract no. W911NF-07-D-0004.

Author Contributions Z.W., Y.C, J.D.J and M.S. designed the photonic-crystal system, analysed the data and wrote the manuscript. Z.W. and Y.C. fabricated the structure and performed all the experimental measurements.

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Correspondence to Zheng Wang.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Notes, Supplementary Figures S-1-S-2 with Legends, Notes and Legends for Supplementary Movies S1-S5 and a Supplementary Reference. (PDF 1584 kb)

Supplementary Movie 1

This file shows a one-way CES mode being excited by a dipole antenna - see file s1. (MOV 294 kb)

Supplementary Movie 2

This movie file shows a one-way CES mode circumventing a metallic scatterer see file s1. (MOV 527 kb)

Supplementary Movie 3

This movie file shows a conventional waveguide excited by a dipole antenna see file s1. (MOV 322 kb)

Supplementary Movie 4

This movie file shows a conventional waveguide with a small metallic scatterer see file s1. (MOV 235 kb)

Supplementary Movie 5

This movie file shows a conventional waveguide with a metallic scatterer identical to the one in Movie S2. (MOV 181 kb)

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Wang, Z., Chong, Y., Joannopoulos, J. et al. Observation of unidirectional backscattering-immune topological electromagnetic states. Nature 461, 772–775 (2009).

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