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Bringing One Example of Quantum Mechanics to the Larger World


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Quantum mechanics allows for some odd things to happen, like materials that block the flow of electrons within their volume, but are conductors over their surfaces. These topological insulators could have a variety of uses in future technologies, especially as we come to better understand them. Now researchers at ETH Zurich have succeeded in recreating this effect in the classical realm with an array of pendulums, and it too could have uses, including sound and vibration insulation.

Normally one would expect the math beyond quantum systems to be only relevant in quantum mechanics. The Zurich researchers realized, however, that by rearranging the formulae for topological insulators, they would resemble those for an array of swinging pendulums, which is a well-understood system. From this, the researchers got to work constructing an array of 270 pendulums in a rectangular lattice, connected by springs, coupling them all together. Only two of these pendulums were powered, and thus could have their frequency and strength controlled. With the correct frequency, the researchers discovered what they were hoping for; the outer pendulums could be made to swing in rhythm while the inner pendulums hung still. This is like a topological insulator, where electrons will flow over the surface, but will not pass through the center.

Not only were the researchers able to recreate this quantum mechanical phenomenon, but it also turned out to be very robust, as it could survive the array being disordered and some even being removed. Now the researchers are working to shrink the system from the half-meter long, half kilogram pendulums to something without pendulums, and just centimeters in size.

Source: ETH Zurich

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