Purdue University Graduate School
ToddVanMechelen_Thesis.pdf (12.41 MB)

Foundations of topological electrodynamics

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posted on 2020-12-15, 21:26 authored by Todd F Van MechelenTodd F Van Mechelen
Over the last decade, Dirac matter has become one of the most prominent fields of research in contemporary material science due to the incredibly rich physics of the Dirac equation. Notable examples are the Dirac cones in graphene, Weyl points in TaAs, and gapless edge states in Bi2Te3. These unique phases of matter are intimately related to the topological structure of Dirac fermions. However, it remains an open question if the topological structure of Maxwell's equations predicts yet new phases of matter. This thesis will conclusively answer this question.

Topological electrodynamics is concerned with the geometry of electromagnetic waves in condensed matter. At the microscopic level, photons couple to the dipole-carrying excitations of a material, such as plasmons and excitons, which hybridize to form new normal modes of the system. The interaction between these bosonic oscillators is the origin of temporal and spatial dispersion in optical response functions like the conductivity tensor. Our main achievement is motivating a global interpretation of these response functions, over all frequencies and wavevectors. This theory led us to the conclusion that there are topological invariants associated with the conductivity tensor itself. In this thesis, we show exactly how to calculate these electromagnetic invariants, in both continuum and lattice theories, to identify unique Maxwellian phases of matter. Magnetohydrodynamic electron fluids in strongly-correlated 2D materials like graphene are the first candidates of this new class of topological phase. The fundamental physical mechanism that gives rise to a topological electromagnetic classification is Hall viscosity which adds a nonlocal component to the Hall conductivity. To study the topological electrodynamics, we propose viscous Maxwell-Chern-Simons theory -- a Lagrangian framework that naturally generates the equations of motion, nonlocal Hall response and the boundary conditions. We demonstrate that nonlocal Hall conductivity is the spin-1 photonic equivalent of dispersive mass and induces precession of bulk photonic skyrmions. Nontrivial photonic skyrmions are associated with Dirac monopoles in the bulk momentum space and a singular Berry gauge. A singular gauge occurs when the photonic mass changes sign. Remarkably, the boundary of this medium supports gapless chiral edge states that are spin-1 helically-quantized and satisfy open boundary conditions.






Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Electrical and Computer Engineering

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Zubin Jacob

Additional Committee Member 2

Supriyo Datta

Additional Committee Member 3

Weng Cho Chew

Additional Committee Member 4

Chris H. Greene