Topological insulators and superconductors from string theory

Shinsei Ryu, Tadashi Takayanagi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Topological insulators and superconductors in different spatial dimensions and with different discrete symmetries have been fully classified recently, revealing a periodic structure for the pattern of possible types of topological insulators and superconductors, both in terms of spatial dimensions and in terms of symmetry classes. It was proposed that K theory is behind the periodicity. On the other hand, D-branes, a solitonic object in string theory, are also known to be classified by K theory. In this paper, by inspecting low-energy effective field theories realized by two parallel D-branes, we establish a one-to-one correspondence between the K-theory classification of topological insulators/superconductors and D-brane charges. In addition, the string theory realization of topological insulators and superconductors comes naturally with gauge interactions, and the Wess-Zumino term of the D-branes gives rise to a gauge field theory of topological nature, such as ones with the Chern-Simons term or the θ term in various dimensions. This sheds light on topological insulators and superconductors beyond noninteracting systems, and the underlying topological field theory description thereof. In particular, our string theory realization includes the honeycomb lattice Kitaev model in two spatial dimensions, and its higher-dimensional extensions. Increasing the number of D-branes naturally leads to a realization of topological insulators and superconductors in terms of holography (AdS/CFT).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number086014
JournalPhysical Review D - Particles, Fields, Gravitation and Cosmology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Oct 26 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nuclear and High Energy Physics
  • Physics and Astronomy (miscellaneous)


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