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Team develops first photonic topological insulators to protect transport of light

Posted April 11, 2013

Researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have developed and successfully demonstrated a photonic Floquet topological insulator, a new device used to protect the transport of light through a unique, lattice of ‘waveguides.’ The advancement may play a key role in the photonics industry. A description is published in the current issue of Nature.

The photonics industry is at the heart of modern computing and communication. It has allowed vast amounts of data to be transmitted extremely quickly over fiber optic lines that cross the oceans. Photonic technology (i.e., technology that is based on the flow and control of light) is at the heart of DVDs, fabrication of computer chips, and solar cells.

As computers get faster and computer chips get denser, there is a need for smaller and smaller devices that manipulate light. But when devices get smaller, imperfections in the fabrication processes can play a large role, making light move irregularly and unpredictably. In other words, there’s a need for a new methodology to prevent unwanted scattering from any kind of defect.

Researchers in the group of Prof. Mordechai (Moti) Segev at the Technion, in collaboration with the group of Prof. Alex Szameit at the Friedrich-Schiller University in Jena, Germany, have done exactly that. Using a lattice-work of ‘waveguides’ (which are like wires that guide light instead of electricity), the researchers have experimentally demonstrated a ‘photonic topological insulator.’ The researchers used an array of helical ‘waveguides’ (shaped like curly hairs) arranged in a ‘honeycomb’ lattice structure, similar to the pattern observed in beehives. In such a structure, where each waveguide is thinner than a tenth of a human hair, light is ‘topologically protected,’ which means it flows uninterrupted despite the presence of defects.

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