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A couple articles on experimental and theoretical progress on topological insulators. These might be among the new physical phenomena that have the greatest potential for useful applications, and are another manifestation of the beautiful interplay between topology and electromagnetism.

Some great physical explanations can be found in this 2-year-old Physics World article:

Unlike superconductors and magnets, which have order associated with a broken symmetry, topologically ordered states are distinguished by a kind of knotting of the quantum states of the electrons. This topological order “protects” the surface states, so that they cannot be eliminated by disorder or chemical passivation, and it endows them with special properties that may be useful for applications ranging from spintronics to quantum computation.

Found via this newer article recounting some of the key steps, including the recent awarding of the 2013 Physics Frontiers Prize to three pioneers of the field:

What applications these new generations of topological materials might have is probably beyond our current imagination. That being said, there is recent experimental evidence that a 1D topological superconductor can support Majorana bound states, which may be the building blocks of a fault-tolerant quantum computer. This work was in fact Science Magazine’s runner-up for the 2012 scientific breakthrough of the year, trailing only the discovery of the Higgs boson. Let’s hope this is the start of a trend!

#scienceeveryday  +ScienceSunday