Within the past decade, inspired by the preparation of graphene, a whole library of layered semiconductors, semimetals, insulators have been prepared in single atomic layer thickness, opening up new avenues for basic research and applications. However, the true power of these 2D materials lies in the fact that they can be stacked on top of each other like Lego bricks. In this way, one can combine various physical properties and harness the physics at the interfaces to create heterostructures of atomically thin materials with properties that are vastly different from their parent crystal.
Our research group focuses on the rich physics playground that these materials present, especially regarding the exploration of topological phases of matter. The techniques for creating heterostructures are just waiting to be applied to a new class of layered materials: 2D topological insulators, having a topologically non-trivial band structure with an insulating bulk and conductive states at the edges. The edge states, behaving like two copies of the quantum Hall effect, can carry dissipationless current, without the need for a magnetic field. Layered materials incorporating elements with heavy nuclei are the prime candidates just waiting to be explored in detail. Due to their large topologically non-trivial bandgap in and above the 100 meV range, these materials have the promise of realizing room temperature dissipationless charge transport. They could also be the key to building quantum computers that are robust against decoherence.