Electrons are not just little spheres, bouncing through a material like a rubber ball. The laws of quantum physics tell us that electrons behave like waves. In some materials, these electron waves can take on rather complicated shapes. The so-called "topological materials" produce electron states that can be very interesting for technical applications, but it is extremely difficult to identify these materials and their associated electronic states.
TU Wien (Vienna) and several research groups from China have now developed new ideas and implemented them in an experiment. A "crystal " made of light waves is created to hold atoms in a very special geometric pattern. These "light crystals", which have been used in different ways for the manipulation of atoms, can now be used to deliberately drive the system out of equilibrium. By switching between simple and complicated states, the system reveals whether or not it has topologically interesting states. These findings have now been published in the journal Physical Review Letters.