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Researches have uncovered "smoking-gun" evidence to confirm the workings of an emerging class of materials that could make possible "spintronic" devices and practical quantum computers far more powerful than today's technologies.

The materials are called "topological insulators." Unlike ordinary materials that are either insulators or conductors, topological insulators are in some sense both at the same time - they are insulators inside but always conduct electricity via the surface. Specifically, the researchers have reported the clearest demonstration of such seemingly paradoxical conducting properties and observed the "half integer quantum Hall effect" on the surface of a topological insulator.

"This is unambiguous smoking-gun evidence to confirm theoretical predictions for the conduction of electrons in these materials," said Purdue University doctoral student Yang Xu, lead author of a paper appearing this week in the journal Nature Physics.

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