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Irregular shaped building inspires new material


At Technology4Change we often feature examples of how technologies developed for other applications such as space, automotive and telecommunications are being applied in the built environment, but this time buildings are inspiring a ground-breaking physics innovation.

Researchers at the Australian National University were inspired by the radical shape of a Canberra building to develop a new material that allows scientists to put a perfect bend on light.  The new material called a topological insulator could lead to the development of an improved computer chip using light.  It could also be used to improve the performance of microscopes, antennae and even quantum computing.

The researchers Alex Slobozhankyuk and Andrey Miroshnichenko, pictured in front of the building with models of the material structures, were part of the team led by Professor Yuri Kivshar.  As the picture shows the building’s rows of offset zigzag walls are a highly irregular shape.

“We had been searching for a new topology and one day I looked at the building and a bell went off in my brain,” said researcher Dr Andrey Miroshnichenko.  “On the edges of such a material the light should travel completely unhindered, surfing around irregularities that would normally scatter light.”

This unique topology allows light to travel unhindered and bend around corners without any loss of signal.  The material innovation is related to the material structure rather than the molecules it is made from.

“In our experiment we used an array of ceramic spheres, although the initial theoretical model used metallic subwavelength particles, even though they are very different materials they gave the same result” said Dr Miroshnichenko.


Image courtesy of ANU.