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  • How an Australian building’s unique design inspired a scientific breakthrough

    2018 - 11.21

    ANU researcher Andrey Miroshnichenko outside the Nishi building. Photo: Graham TidyLike hundreds of commuters  Andrey Miroshnichenko drives past the Nishi building in Canberra every day on his way to work.
    Nanjing Night Net

    But the ANU physicist now looks at the building in a whole new light after he and a team of researchers were able to re-create its unusual zigzagging exterior on a small scale to provide the breakthrough they needed on their quest to put a perfect bend in light.

    “One day… about September or October last year I looked at it and thought this is exactly what we need for our next step,” he said.

    Dr Miroshnichenko and his fellow researchers, led by Professor Yuri Kivshar, found that by arranging a single line of particles in a zigzag shape light was forced to the edges of material.

    The building inspired Dr Miroshnichenko to think of replicating the effect with multiple zigzags allowing light to travel unhindered by irregularities over a 3D surface.

    Creating a topological insulator could lead to an improved computer chip using light and may also be used in microscopes, antennas and quantum computers.

    The concept has already been applied to electronics, but the new approach could allow an optical version to be created.

    “We expect it should help to propagate light around sharp corners which is required in optical chips to make computers work by light not by electrons,” Dr Miroshnichenko said.

    “To make them [the chips] compact sharp corners have to be fabricated and usually with conventional materials such sharp corners are bad regions because light tends to escape around corners, it doesn’t want to bounce.

    “With this type of material… the full information can be transmitted from one end to another without the loss of any bit of information.”

    It took a year to build the first experiment with the single line of particles and now the researchers will build a prototype using multiple zigzags.

    “It’s expected the next Nobel prize will be awarded for the discovery of such materials [to transmit electrons] now a similar hunt exists to create similar structures for photons, for light,” Dr Miroshnichenko said.

    “In electronics now they use the process to make really good wires where electrons can propagate fast without a loss in communications.”

    The researchers have found the zigzag topology can be recreated with any material and still have the same effect on light.

    Dr Miroshnichenko admits the breakthrough has changed the way he looks at the Nishi building.

    “My wife actually hates the building, I know inside it’s beautiful… but from the outside it looks unfinished,” he laughed.

    “But now maybe there will be something good associated with it, at least in our minds.”

    This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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