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Of Doughnuts and Mugs, Skyrmions and Majoranas

Two hundred and ninety early-career scientists from Germany and abroad to attend 48th IFF Spring School

Jülich, 27 March 2017 – Around 290 early-career scientists from Germany and abroad will arrive at Jülich today and stay here for the coming two weeks. They will be attending the 48th IFF Spring School, which starts today at Forschungszentrum Jülich. The compact course for students and early-career researchers addresses a different cutting-edge research area every year, with this year’s focus on "topological materials". Topology is a concept that was honoured with a Nobel Prize in Physics last autumn. This year’s spring school is hosted together with the University of Cologne and will conclude on 7 April.

What do doughnuts and mugs have in common? If considered in terms of topology, a subarea of mathematics, they share one crucial feature: a hole. This is what makes them topologically equivalent objects: objects are considered topologically equivalent if they can – at least theoretically – be deformed into each other by bending or stretching. Physicists made use of the concept of topology as early as the 1970s to explain unusual changes of matter.

"Research into topological materials has boomed – and not just since the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to the pioneers of the area, David Thouless, Duncan Haldane, and Michael Kosterlitz. It is hoped that this will lead to future applications in materials research as well as electronics," explains Prof. Stefan Blügel, leading scientific organizer of the 2017 IFF Spring School and Director at Jülich’s Peter Grünberg Institute and Institute for Advanced Simulation.

Jülich working groups conduct research into various promising topological materials such as topological insulators, skyrmions, and Majorana fermions. Topological insulators are able to conduct electricity across their surface with great mobility, as if on railway tracks. Skyrmions are magnetic nanovortices which may in future very reliably store data using very little space and energy in the process. Majorana fermions are excitation states of electrons which can be described simultaneously as particles and antiparticles. "As these exotic excitation states are especially protected from external fields they may be particularly useful in the construction of quantum computers", clarifies Prof. Yoichi Ando of the Institute of Physics II at the University of Cologne.

The spring school will cover an interdisciplinary spectrum of topics ranging from the theoretical and experimental physical fundamentals of the research area to state-of-the-art analytical methods as well as current research findings and projects. More than 30 experts in the field, coming from Jülich, Cologne, Aachen, and other German and international research institutions, will hold around 50 hours’ worth of lectures on the topic during the course of the spring school. Campus tours will complement the programme and permit the early-career researchers to also learn about experimental facilities and laboratories of related scientific disciplines.

The first of these spring schools was held in 1970 and has since then been organized by several institutes of Forschungszentrum Jülich, with a different physical focus every year. The name of the spring school refers to the former Institute of Solid State Research (Institut für Festkörperforschung, IFF) which initially launched the project and organized a total of 41 spring schools.

Gruppenfoto der Teilnehmer und Organisatoren der IFF-Ferienschule 2017 im Innenhof der Zentralbibliothek.Participants and organizers of the 2017 IFF Spring School.
Copyright: Forschungszentrum Jülich

Dirac-KegelThese are not flying saucers but an artist’s impression of topological matter: the Dirac cone of a topological insulator (left), a skyrmion and a bobber (right), and electric current in a topological insulator (foreground).
Copyright: Forschungszentrum Jülich

Further information:

Programme of the 48th Spring School

About the organizers:

At Forschungszentrum Jülich:
Quantum Theory of Materials (PGI-1/IAS-1)
Topological Nanoelectronics young investigators group
Semiconductor Nanoelectronics (PGI-9)

At the University of Cologne:
Institute of Physics II


Barbara Daegener
Forschungszentrum Jülich
tel.: +49 2461 61-4750

Press contact:

Angela Wenzik
Forschungszentrum Jülich
tel: +49 2461 61-6048