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Cheaper and more efficient photonic devices, such as lasers, optical fibers, and other light sources, may be possible with confined light that is unaffected by imperfections in the material that confines it, according to new research. A team of physicists from Penn State, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Illinois have demonstrated in a proof-of-concept experiment that they can contain light in such a way that makes it highly insensitive to defects that might be present in a material. The results of the research appear online on June 4, 2018 in the journal Nature Photonics.

  • Research
  • Condensed Matter Theory
  • Condensed Matter Physics

Researchers have produced a “human scale” demonstration of a new phase of matter called quadrupole topological insulators that was recently predicted using theoretical physics. These are the first experimental findings to validate this theory.

The researchers report their findings in the journal Nature.

The team’s work with QTIs was born out of the decade-old understanding of the properties of a class of materials called topological insulators. “TIs are electrical insulators on the inside and conductors along their boundaries, and may hold great potential for helping build low-power, robust computers and devices, all defined at the atomic scale,” said mechanical science and engineering professor and senior investigator Gaurav Bahl.

The uncommon properties of TIs make them a special form of electronic matter. “Collections of electrons can form their own phases within materials. These can be familiar solid, liquid and gas phases like water, but they can also sometimes form more unusual phases like a TI,” said co-author and physics professor Taylor Hughes.

  • Research
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Condensed Matter Theory
  • ICMT
  • Institute for Condensed Matter Theory

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Princeton University have theoretically predicted a new class of insulating phases of matter in crystalline materials, pinpointed where they might be found in nature, and in the process generalized the fundamental quantum theory of Berry phases in solid state systems. What’s more, these insulators generate electric quadrupole or octupole moments—which can be thought of roughly as very specific electric fields—that are quantized. Quantized observables are a gold standard in condensed matter research, because experimental results that measure these observables have to, in principle, exactly match theoretical predictions—leaving no wiggle room for doubt, even in highly complex systems.

The research, which is the combined effort of graduate student Wladimir Benalcazar and Associate Professor of Physics Taylor Hughes of the Institute for Condensed Matter Theory at the U. of I., and Professor of Physics B. Andrei Bernevig of Princeton, is published in the July 7, 2017 issue of the journal Science.

  • Research
  • Condensed Matter Physics

Physics professor Taylor Hughes and mechanical science and engineering professor Gaurav Bahl of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are part of an interdisciplinary team that will study non-reversible sound wave propagation over the next four years, with a range of promising potential applications.

The National Science Foundation has announced a $2-million research award to the team, which includes University of Oregon physics professor Hailin Wang and Duke University electrical and computer engineering professor Steven Cummer. The grant is part of a broader $18-million NSF-funded initiative, the Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation (EFRI) program, supporting nine teams—a total of 37 researchers at 17 institutions—to pursue fundamental research in the area of new light and acoustic wave propagation, known as NewLAW.

  • In the Media
  • Condensed Matter Physics

What’s exciting to you about working in this field? One thing is that it’s a new field. And because it involves “weakly correlated” physics, we can actually hope to make precise calculations about what is going to happen in experiments. It’s just a matter of asking the right question. That, to me, lends itself to more creativity, in a way that I feel can be rewarding. Whereas, if I came up with a new theory of high-temperature superconductivity, nobody would believe it but me.

  • Accolades
  • Condensed Matter Physics

Assistant Professor Taylor Hughes has been selected for the 2015 Young Investigator Program of the Office of Naval Research (ONR), one of the oldest and most selective scientific research advancement programs in the country. Hughes is among 36 early-career university faculty selected for the program this year from across the nation. Each will receive annual monetary awards over a three-year period for research efforts that hold promise for advancing naval technologies.

Hughes will use the award, which extends his previous ONR funded research, to explore new classes of electronic materials including crystalline topological insulators (TCIs) and topological semi-metals (TSMs), with interactions. Both of these classes of materials are expected to exhibit remarkable properties, some of which are yet to be predicted.