Researchers report a new, highly unusual, structured-light family of 3D topological solitons, the photonic hopfions, where the topological textures and topological numbers can be freely and independently tuned.
We can frequently find in our daily lives a localized wave structure that maintains its shape upon propagation—picture a smoke ring flying in the air. Similar stable structures have been studied in various research fields and can be found in magnets, nuclear systems, and particle physics. In contrast to a ring of smoke, they can be made resilient to perturbations. This is known in mathematics and physics as topological protection.
A typical example is the nanoscale hurricane-like texture of a magnetic field in magnetic thin films, behaving as particles—that is, not changing their shape—called skyrmions. Similar doughnut-shaped (or toroidal) patterns in 3D space, visualizing complex spatial distributions of various properties of a wave, are called hopfions. Achieving such structures with light waves is very elusive.
Recent studies of structured light revealed strong spatial variations of polarization, phase, and amplitude, which enable the understanding of—and open up opportunities for designing—topologically stable optical structures behaving like particles. Such quasiparticles of light with control of diversified topological properties may have great potential, for example as next-generation information carriers for ultralarge-capacity optical information transfer, as well as in quantum technologies.