"A quantum gas with Rashba spin-orbit coupling or how to make a donut with half a hole"
Topological order can be found in a wide range of physical systems, from crystalline solids, photonic meta-materials and even atmospheric waves to optomechanic, acoustic and atomic systems. Topological systems are a robust foundation for creating quantized channels for transporting electrical current, light, and atmospheric disturbances. These topological effects are quantified in terms of integer-valued invariants, such as the Chern number, applicable to the quantum Hall effect, or the Z2 invariant suitable for topological insulators. Here we engineered Rashba spin-orbit coupling for a cold atomic gas giving non-trivial topology, without the underlying crystalline structure that conventionally yields integer Chern numbers. We validated our procedure by spectroscopically measuring the full dispersion relation, that contained only a single Dirac point. We measured the quantum geometry underlying the dispersion relation and obtained the topological index using matter-wave interferometry. In contrast to crystalline materials, where topological indices take on integer values, our continuum system reveals an unconventional half-integer Chern number, potentially implying new forms of topological transport.