University of Utah engineers report the ability to build the first organic materials, dubbed organic topological insulators, that conduct electricity on their edges but act as an insulator inside.
The research could open a new field of study in materials science, in the same way organic materials lowered the cost and eased production of light-emitting diodes and solar cells, researchers said.
"This is the first demonstration of the existence of topological insulators based on organic materials," materials science Professor Feng Liu said. "Our findings will broaden the scope and impact of these materials in various applications from spintronics to quantum computing."
In a topological insulator, electrons known as Dirac fermions behave like massless or weightless packets of light, conducting electricity as they move very fast along a material's surface or edges.
"We have demonstrated a system with a special type of electron -- a Dirac fermion -- in which the spin motion can be manipulated to transmit information," Liu said.
Such particles can contain and carry information because the spin can be switched "up" or "down."
"This is advantageous over traditional electronics because it's faster and you don't have to worry about heat dissipation," Liu said.