Photonic topological insulators

Nat Mater. 2013 Mar;12(3):233-9. doi: 10.1038/nmat3520. Epub 2012 Dec 16.


Recent progress in understanding the topological properties of condensed matter has led to the discovery of time-reversal-invariant topological insulators. A remarkable and useful property of these materials is that they support unidirectional spin-polarized propagation at their surfaces. Unfortunately topological insulators are rare among solid-state materials. Using suitably designed electromagnetic media (metamaterials) we theoretically demonstrate a photonic analogue of a topological insulator. We show that metacrystals-superlattices of metamaterials with judiciously designed properties-provide a platform for designing topologically non-trivial photonic states, similar to those that have been identified for condensed-matter topological insulators. The interfaces of the metacrystals support helical edge states that exhibit spin-polarized one-way propagation of photons, robust against disorder. Our results demonstrate the possibility of attaining one-way photon transport without application of external magnetic fields or breaking of time-reversal symmetry. Such spin-polarized one-way transport enables exotic spin-cloaked photon sources that do not obscure each other.