Princeton Scientists Discover Room Temperature Quantum State

New technique could lead to more efficient quantum electronics

Scientists at Princeton University have observed quantum behavior typically limited to extreme low temperature environments using a topological insulator in a room temperature state. A topological insulator is a device that is conductive around the edges (meaning that electrons are free to move around and conduct electricity) but acts as an insulator on the inside. The topology of the object ensures that electrons flowing around the edges “...are not hampered by any defects or deformations.” An important part of the research was finding the right materials for constructing the topological insulator. In this case, the Princeton team built the device using a combination of bismuth and bromine.

According to the press release, “The scientists have used topological insulators to demonstrate quantum effects for more than a decade, but this experiment is the first time these effects have been observed at room temperature. Typically, inducing and observing quantum states in topological insulators requires temperatures around absolute zero, which is equal to minus 459 degrees Fahrenheit (or -273 degrees Celsius). This finding opens up a new range of possibilities for the development of efficient quantum technologies, such as spin-based electronics, which may potentially replace many current electronic systems for higher energy efficiency.”

Temperatures near absolute zero have been required in the past because higher temperatures tend to drown out quantum effects through “thermal noise” as atoms absorb the heat and begin to vibrate. By managing these noise effects through topology and material science, the researchers were able to study these quantum effects without the constraints of a super-cooled testing environment.