Electrical charges on the boundaries of topological insulators favour forward motion over back-scattering at impurities, producing low-dissipation, metallic states that exist up to room temperature in ambient conditions. These states have the promise to impact a broad range of applications from electronics to the production of energy, which is one reason why topological insulators have become the rising star in condensed-matter physics. There are many challenges in the processing of these exotic materials to use the metallic states in functional devices, and they present great opportunities for the chemistry and materials science research communities. © 2011 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved.