Observation of the topological Anderson insulator in disordered atomic wires

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Science  23 Nov 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6417, pp. 929-933
DOI: 10.1126/science.aat3406

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A messy topological wire

Adding irregularity to a system can lead to a transition from a more orderly to a less orderly phase. Meier et al. demonstrated a counterintuitive transition in the opposite direction: Controlled fluctuations in the system's parameters caused it to become topologically nontrivial. The starting point was a one-dimensional lattice of ultracold rubidium atoms in momentum space whose band structure was topologically trivial. The researchers then introduced fluctuations in the tunneling between the lattice sites and monitored the atomic “wires” as the amplitude of the fluctuations increased. The wires first became topologically nontrivial and then went back to trivial for sufficient disorder strengths.

Science, this issue p. 929


Topology and disorder have a rich combined influence on quantum transport. To probe their interplay, we synthesized one-dimensional chiral symmetric wires with controllable disorder via spectroscopic Hamiltonian engineering, based on the laser-driven coupling of discrete momentum states of ultracold atoms. Measuring the bulk evolution of a topological indicator after a sudden quench, we observed the topological Anderson insulator phase, in which added disorder drives the band structure of a wire from topologically trivial to nontrivial. In addition, we observed the robustness of topologically nontrivial wires to weak disorder and measured the transition to a trivial phase in the presence of strong disorder. Atomic interactions in this quantum simulation platform may enable realizations of strongly interacting topological fluids.

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