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Floquet Topological Insulator in Semiconductor Quantum Wells

The quantum Hall effect is an example of a phenomenon having topological features and can be observed in certain materials in the presence of a large magnetic field. One way to visualize quantum Hall states is to imagine that the electrons, under the influence of the magnetic field, will be confined to tiny orbits. However, the electrons at the interface must move along the edge of the material where they only complete partial trajectories before reaching a boundary of the material. Here, the electrons are not pinned and conduction will occur; the name for these available avenues of travel is ‘edge states.’

Researchers in a collaboration between the PFC at JQI and CalTech have shown that it may be possible to take a conventional semiconductor and endow it with topological properties without subjecting the material to extreme environmental conditions or fundamentally changing its solid state structure.

Topological insulators, a completely new class of solids, are rare and exhibit a dual personality in their physical properties: they are insulators in the bulk and conductors on the surface (3D) or at the edges (2D). The researchers open a new avenue for studying these materials by exploring the effects of adding weak, microwave-THz radiation to an otherwise non-topological insulating system. The authors show that in the presence of this field, the system can be transformed into a “Floquet topological insulator.”

Notably, the Floquet topological insulator does not require extreme conditions and may exist at room temperature, making this system amenable for many applications such as quantum information processing and new types of electronics. Quantum information is fragile and can be spoiled easily by an external environment. Interestingly, the edge states of topological insulators, assisted by superconductivity, can be used to store and manipulate quantum information in a manner that is protected from such outside influences.

Netanel H. Lindner, Gil Refael, and Victor Galitski
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