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Topological insulators are considered a very promising material class for the development of future electronic devices. A research team at Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) has discovered, how light can be used to alter the physical properties of the electrons in these materials. Their results have just been published by the journal Physical Review X.

The material class of topological insulators has been discovered a few years ago and displays amazing properties: In their inside, they behave electrically insulating but at their surface they form metallic, conducting states. The electron spin, i. e., their intrinsic angular momentum, is playing a decisive role. Their sense of rotation is directly coupled to their direction of movement. This coupling leads not only to a high stability of the metallic property but also enables a particularly lossless electrical conduction.

Topological insulators are, therefore, considered interesting and promising candidates for novel devices in information technology. A particularly innovative approach is to try and influence the electron spin at the surface in such devices by light. HZB researcher Prof. Oliver Rader and his team have discovered by which means the spin at the surface of topological insulators can be altered. To this end, the researches performed experiments with light of various energies or wavelengths.

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