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Can energy move from a colder to a hotter region in a material without violating the second law of thermodynamics? Yes, according to physicists from Trinity College Dublin and the Universidad Complutense of Madrid, who discovered that a quantum effect sometimes forces current to flow around the edges of a sample in a way that opposes the normal direction of heat flow. These “edge currents” are remarkably robust, and the physicists say they could be present in a broader class of range of systems than previously thought. If that is the case, such currents might be used to control heat flow through nanostructures and thus help bring about more energy-efficient computer chips or devices to recycle waste heat.

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