Research Article

Quantized electric multipole insulators

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Science  07 Jul 2017:
Vol. 357, Issue 6346, pp. 61-66
DOI: 10.1126/science.aah6442

Corner-dwelling topological states

Computing the electric polarization of a crystal is surprisingly tricky, but it can be tackled with the help of a topological concept, the so-called Berry phase. Extensions to higher multiple moments, such as quadrupole and octupole, are even trickier. Benalcazar et al. built a theoretical framework for dealing with these moments in certain types of solids. In the presence of some crystalline symmetries, the quadrupole moment is quantized, and the corners of the system play host to fractionally charged, topologically protected states. These predictions may be testable in cold atom and photonic systems.

Science, this issue p. 61


The Berry phase provides a modern formulation of electric polarization in crystals. We extend this concept to higher electric multipole moments and determine the necessary conditions and minimal models for which the quadrupole and octupole moments are topologically quantized electromagnetic observables. Such systems exhibit gapped boundaries that are themselves lower-dimensional topological phases. Furthermore, they host topologically protected corner states carrying fractional charge, exhibiting fractionalization at the boundary of the boundary. To characterize these insulating phases of matter, we introduce a paradigm in which “nested” Wilson loops give rise to topological invariants that have been overlooked. We propose three realistic experimental implementations of this topological behavior that can be immediately tested. Our work opens a venue for the expansion of the classification of topological phases of matter.

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