Information and communication technologies are integral to our modern way of life as well as being an important driver of economic growth. A key element fostering the constant developments and innovations in this field are materials with novel and engineered properties. The 2007 report by the Molenkamp group at the University of Würzburg of the fabrication and analysis of a prototype for a new class of materials, so-called topological insulators (TI), was therefore an important leap forward, opening completely novel possibilities to be explored. These TI materials consist of an insulating bulk, and a topologically protected highly conducting surface state, and are widely viewed as promising avenues towards a vast array of technological applications ranging from ultra-low power dissipation electronics to quantum computing. Moreover, they are extremely interesting from the academic point of view, providing a much more cost and time efficient alternative to particle accelerators for exploring theories about the fundamental nature of the universe. This “lab-on-a-chip” approach is possible because many of the theories postulated to describe potential new particles in high energy physics have direct equivalents inside these novel topological states.
The Institute for Topological Insulators (ITI) provides a worldwide unique infrastructure bringing together state-of-the-art technologies and world leading researchers to realize novel device concepts. It has the mission of conducting internationally leading research towards the development, understanding, and applications of TIs. ITI is led by Laurens W. Molenkamp who not only directs the local efforts, but coordinates the research activities within an international and interdisciplinary network of scientists. The institute is organized in four sections: TI growth, material analysis, nanolithography and processing, and device development. While Prof. Molenkamp provides experienced leadership to the effort, much of the activities are carried out by promising early stage researchers who, with the benefit of the research facilities and international networking possibilities provided by ITI, will grow into research leaders of the future. In this way, the Institute for Topological Insulators aims to advance research on TIs as well as in solid state physics in general, not only in the present, but also for generations to come.