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Tetradymites as thermoelectrics and topological insulators


Tetradymites are M2X3 compounds — in which M is a group V metal, usually Bi or Sb, and X is a group VI anion, Te, Se or S — that crystallize in a rhombohedral structure. Bi2Se3, Bi2Te3 and Sb2Te3 are archetypical tetradymites. Other mixtures of M and X elements produce common variants, such as Bi2Te2Se. Because tetradymites are based on heavy p-block elements, strong spin-orbit coupling greatly influences their electronic properties, both on the surface and in the bulk. Their surface electronic states are a cornerstone of frontier work on topological insulators. The bulk energy bands are characterized by small energy gaps, high group velocities, small effective masses and band inversion near the centre of the Brillouin zone. These properties are favourable for high-efficiency thermoelectric materials but make it difficult to obtain an electrically insulating bulk, which is a requirement of topological insulators. This Review outlines recent progress made in bulk and thin-film tetradymite materials for the optimization of their properties both as thermoelectrics and as topological insulators.

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Figure 1: Crystallography of M2X3 compounds with M = Bi, Sb or As and X = Te, Se or S.
Figure 2: Angular-resolved photoemission spectroscopy data on the binary tetradymites and line compounds.
Figure 3: Spin-resolved angular-resolved photoemission spectroscopy in ultrathin Bi2Se3 films.
Figure 4: Quantum anomalous Hall effect.
Figure 5: Topological spintronics.
Figure 6: Phonons in tetradymites.
Figure 7: Thermoelectric figure of merit.


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The research of R.J.C. and N.S. on topological insulators was supported by the Army Research Office (ARO) Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) (Grant No. W911NF-12-1-0461) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) (Grant No. DMR-1420451). N.S. acknowledges the Pennsylvania State University Two-Dimensional Crystal Consortium–Materials Innovation Platform (2DCC–MIP), which is supported by the NSF cooperative agreement DMR-1539916. The work of J.P.H. and R.J.C. was supported by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) MURI on thermoelectrics (Grant No. FA9550-10-1-0533). J.P.H. is currently supported by the NSF (Grant Nos EFRI-1433467 and DMR-142051); he acknowledges useful discussions with B. Wiendlocha, W. Windl and T. M. McCormick.

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Heremans, J., Cava, R. & Samarth, N. Tetradymites as thermoelectrics and topological insulators. Nat Rev Mater 2, 17049 (2017).

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