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Topological materials : towards topological engineering ?

Topological materials : towards topological engineering ?

Solid, liquid, gas, plasma : these are different phases - or states - in which a material can be found. Less well known, the topological phases won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics for their discoverers, Thouless, Haldane and Kosterlitz. These new states of matter have surprising behaviours : topological insulators have the property of being electrical insulators in volume, while an electrical current can propagate without resistance to their surface. So far seen as curiosities of nature, these properties are in fact much more widespread than expected : they concern more than a quarter of inorganic natural materials, as has just been shown by an international team including Nicolas Regnault, a researcher from LPENS.

Based on a theory called "topological quantum chemistry", which predicts the topological properties of materials from the arrangement of their atoms, researchers have developed several computer codes to classify all inorganic materials in a reference database1.

Of 26,938 materials studied2, 12% were topological insulators, and 15% were semi-metals (the other major class of topological materials, intermediate between insulators and metals).

Researchers now want to predict new topological materials using artificial intelligence and their database. In any case, this discovery augurs a bright future for these materials, which are already expected to play a role in quantum computing.

1Inorganic Crystal Structure Database : this database contains the fine structure (atom positions), obtained by crystallography, of all known inorganic materials.
2 The so-called "high quality" materials in the database.

More :
Vergniory et al., A complete catalogue of high-quality topological materials, Nature, 28 février 2019.

Author affiliation :
Laboratoire de physique de l’ENS (ENS/CNRS/Sorbonne Université/Université Paris Diderot)

Press release written in collaboration with the CNRS

Catalogue de matériaux topologiques découverts connus à ce jour, réalisé par cette équipe scientifique : www.topologicalquantumchemistry.com

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