Abstract

The hallmark property of two-dimensional topological insulators is robustness of quantized electronic transport of charge and energy against disorder in the underlying lattice1. That robustness arises from the fact that, in the topological bandgap, such transport can occur only along the edge states, which are immune to backscattering owing to topological protection. However, for sufficiently strong disorder, this bandgap closes and the system as a whole becomes topologically trivial: all states are localized and all transport vanishes in accordance with Anderson localization2,3. The recent suggestion4 that the reverse transition can occur was therefore surprising. In so-called topological Anderson insulators, it has been predicted4 that the emergence of protected edge states and quantized transport can be induced, rather than inhibited, by the addition of sufficient disorder to a topologically trivial insulator. Here we report the experimental demonstration of a photonic topological Anderson insulator. Our experiments are carried out in an array of helical evanescently coupled waveguides in a honeycomb geometry with detuned sublattices. Adding on-site disorder in the form of random variations in the refractive index of the waveguides drives the system from a trivial phase into a topological one. This manifestation of topological Anderson insulator physics shows experimentally that disorder can enhance transport rather than arrest it.

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Acknowledgements

A.S. and M.S. thank the German-Israeli DIP (project BL 574/13-1). A.S. acknowledges funding from the German Research Foundation (project SZ 276/9-1). M.S. thanks the European Research Council for financial support. N.L. acknowledges financial support from the European Research Council under the European Union Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme (grant agreement number 639172), from the People Programme (Marie Curie Actions) of the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under REA grant agreement number 631696 and from the Israeli Center of Research Excellence (I-CORE) Circle of Light, funded by the Israeli Science Foundation. M.C.R. acknowledges support from the National Science Foundation under grant number DMS-1620422, as well as the Sloan (FG-2016-6418) and Kaufman (KA2017-91788) foundations. P.T. is supported by an NRC postdoctoral fellowship. The authors acknowledge the University of Maryland supercomputing resources made available for conducting the research reported in this paper.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Institute for Physics, Rostock University, Rostock, Germany

    • Simon Stützer
    •  & Alexander Szameit
  2. Physics Department and Solid State Institute, Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel

    • Yonatan Plotnik
    • , Netanel H. Lindner
    •  & Mordechai Segev
  3. Department of Electrical and Systems Engineering, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA

    • Yaakov Lumer
  4. Joint Quantum Institute and Joint Center for Quantum Information and Computer Science, NIST/University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA

    • Paraj Titum
  5. Department of Physics, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA

    • Mikael C. Rechtsman

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Contributions

All authors contributed substantially to this work.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Alexander Szameit.

Extended data figures and tables

  1. Extended Data Fig. 1 Experimental and numerical results for the disordered system.

    a, The averaged intensity profile of the edge state, which peaks at the waveguide positions. b, A fit through the waveguide peak intensities decays exponentially, with a decay length of 47 μm. c, The function gN(r0rε), integrated along the edge, showing a decay length of about 7a. The inset shows the simulated displacement of the wavefunction along the edge for the parameters listed in Methods, from which the group velocity can be extracted. d, The function gN(r0rε), for an initial position r0 deep in the bulk of the system, showing that the bulk localization length is approximately 4a.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-018-0418-2

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