Topological Phases of Matter

Professor Alexander Seidel, Department of Physics, Washington University
April 21, 2018 at 10:00 am
G052 McMillan
Event Description 

Solid, liquid, gas, these are the phases of matter known to most of us from school. Many more distinctions are, however, known to condensed matter physics, which classifies materials into a great host of different phases or "states" of matter. For example, a metallic conductor and an insulating material are thought to be in different states of matter, even if they are both solid materials. Unlike water or ice, some of these states of matter lend remarkable stability to certain physical properties, such as conductance. These are known as "topological phases". The 2016 Nobel Prize was in part awarded for groundbreaking insights into how topology, the field of mathematics that explores stable properties of geometric shapes, can also explain stable properties of certain phases of matter. Recent developments along those lines include the celebrated "topological insulators", materials that are electrically insulating on the inside but are metallic on their surface. We will review the pieces of topology, electromagnetism, and quantum physics that conspire to give rise to these fascinating behaviors.