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In the decades since they were first theorized, scientists have suggested that the exotic properties of topological materials—that is, materials that maintain their electrical properties even in the face of radical temperature shifts or structural deformation—could result in everything from more energy-efficient electronics to the development of novel superconductors and quantum computers.
The problem, however, is that identifying the materials with those properties is frustratingly difficult.
Process - Professor - Physics - Ashvin - Vishwanath
To speed up the process, Professor of Physics Ashvin Vishwanath and his colleagues conducted a series of studies to develop methods for efficiently identifying new materials that display topological properties.
The first two, published in Nature Communications and Science Advances, and co-authored with MIT Fellow Hoi Chun "Adrian" Po, Ph.D. '18, and Professor Haruki Watanabe of Tokyo University, lay the groundwork for bridging the relevant abstract mathematical concepts with the pragmatic problem of materials discovery. The second, published in Nature this February and co-authored with Po and Feng Tang and Xingang Wan, from Nanjing University, demonstrates the power of the approach and predicts thousands of topological materials candidates.
Days - Lot - Effort - Material - Insulator
"In the early days, a lot of effort was focused on being able to predict whether a material would be an insulator or metallic," Vishwanath said. "About 10 or 20 years ago, though, people realized we could produce these topological materials."
Topological materials defy this simple dichotomy. For example, they may have an electrically insulating interior, which is wrapped in a thin skin of metal. The presence of this metallic coating is protected by topology, a mathematical concept concerned with properties that are robust against small physical changes of the system. In other words, if you try to peel off the metallic skin of a topological insulator, the layer underneath will suddenly become metallic.
Insight - Mathematics - Materials - Materials - Properties
"Insight into the mathematics of these exotic materials would help us find real materials with these topological properties,"...
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