The hallmark property of two-dimensional topological insulators is robustness of quantized electronic transport of charge and energy against disorder in the underlying lattice1. That robustness arises from the fact that, in the topological bandgap, such transport can occur only along the edge states, which are immune to backscattering owing to topological protection. However, for sufficiently strong disorder, this bandgap closes and the system as a whole becomes topologically trivial: all states are localized and all transport vanishes in accordance with Anderson localization2,3. The recent suggestion4 that the reverse transition can occur was therefore surprising. In so-called topological Anderson insulators, it has been predicted4 that the emergence of protected edge states and quantized transport can be induced, rather than inhibited, by the addition of sufficient disorder to a topologically trivial insulator. Here we report the experimental demonstration of a photonic topological Anderson insulator. Our experiments are carried out in an array of helical evanescently coupled waveguides in a honeycomb geometry with detuned sublattices. Adding on-site disorder in the form of random variations in the refractive index of the waveguides drives the system from a trivial phase into a topological one. This manifestation of topological Anderson insulator physics shows experimentally that disorder can enhance transport rather than arrest it.
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