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Photonic topological insulators

Nature Materials volume 12, pages 233239 (2013) | Download Citation

Abstract

Recent progress in understanding the topological properties of condensed matter has led to the discovery of time-reversal-invariant topological insulators. A remarkable and useful property of these materials is that they support unidirectional spin-polarized propagation at their surfaces. Unfortunately topological insulators are rare among solid-state materials. Using suitably designed electromagnetic media (metamaterials) we theoretically demonstrate a photonic analogue of a topological insulator. We show that metacrystals—superlattices of metamaterials with judiciously designed properties—provide a platform for designing topologically non-trivial photonic states, similar to those that have been identified for condensed-matter topological insulators. The interfaces of the metacrystals support helical edge states that exhibit spin-polarized one-way propagation of photons, robust against disorder. Our results demonstrate the possibility of attaining one-way photon transport without application of external magnetic fields or breaking of time-reversal symmetry. Such spin-polarized one-way transport enables exotic spin-cloaked photon sources that do not obscure each other.

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Acknowledgements

A.B.K., S.H.M. and G.S. acknowledge financial support from the Office of Naval Research grant N00014-10-1-0929 and the NSF award PHY-0851614. A.H.M. and W.K.T. acknowledge support from DOE Division of Materials Sciences and Engineering grant DE-FG03-02ER45958. M.K. acknowledges support from ARO grant W911NF-09-1-0527 and NSF grant DMR-0955778. G.S. acknowledges enlightening communications with M. Segev.

Author information

Author notes

    • Alexander B. Khanikaev
    •  & S. Hossein Mousavi

    These authors contributed equally to this work

Affiliations

  1. Department of Physics, The University of Texas at Austin, One University Station, C1500, Austin, Texas 78712, USA

    • Alexander B. Khanikaev
    • , S. Hossein Mousavi
    • , Wang-Kong Tse
    • , Mehdi Kargarian
    • , Allan H. MacDonald
    •  & Gennady Shvets

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Contributions

All authors contributed extensively to the work presented in this paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Alexander B. Khanikaev or Gennady Shvets.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nmat3520

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