Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Transmission of topological surface states through surface barriers

Abstract

Topological surface states are a class of novel electronic states that are of potential interest in quantum computing or spintronic applications1,2,3,4,5,6,7. Unlike conventional two-dimensional electron states, these surface states are expected to be immune to localization and to overcome barriers caused by material imperfection8,9,10,11,12,13,14. Previous experiments have demonstrated that topological surface states do not backscatter between equal and opposite momentum states, owing to their chiral spin texture15,16,17,18. However, so far there is no evidence that these states in fact transmit through naturally occurring surface defects. Here we use a scanning tunnelling microscope to measure the transmission and reflection probabilities of topological surface states of antimony through naturally occurring crystalline steps separating atomic terraces. In contrast to non-topological surface states of common metals (copper, silver and gold)19,20,21,22,23, which are either reflected or absorbed by atomic steps, we show that topological surface states of antimony penetrate such barriers with high probability. This demonstration of the extended nature of antimony’s topological surface states suggests that such states may be useful for high current transmission even in the presence of atomic-scale irregularities—an electronic feature sought to efficiently interconnect nanoscale devices.

Your institute does not have access to this article

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

$32.00

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: The topological surface states of Sb(111) on atomic terraces.
Figure 2: Allowed scattering wavevectors and their quantization.
Figure 3: Lifetime and leakage of quantized quasiparticles.
Figure 4: Resonant tunnelling between adjacent terraces.

References

  1. Kane, C. L. & Mele, E. J. Z2 topological order and the quantum spin Hall effect. Phys. Rev. Lett. 95, 146802 (2005)

    CAS  ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Moore, J. E. & Balents, L. Topological invariants of time-reversal-invariant band structures. Phys. Rev. B 75, 121306(R) (2007)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Fu, L., Kane, C. L. & Mele, E. J. Topological insulators in three dimensions. Phys. Rev. Lett. 98, 106803 (2007)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Roy, R. Z2 classification of quantum spin Hall systems: an approach using time-reversal invariance. Phys. Rev. B 79, 195321 (2009)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Bernevig, B. A., Hughes, T. L. & Zhang, S.-C. Quantum spin Hall effect and topological phase transition in HgTe quantum wells. Science 314, 1757–1761 (2006)

    CAS  ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. König, M. et al. Quantum spin Hall insulator state in HgTe quantum wells. Science 318, 766–770 (2007)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Zhang, H. et al. Topological insulators in Bi2Te3, Bi2Te3 and Sb2Te3 with a single Dirac cone on the surface. Nature Phys. 5, 438–442 (2009)

    CAS  ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Hsieh, D. et al. Observation of unconventional quantum spin textures in topological insulators. Science 323, 919–922 (2009)

    CAS  ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Hsieh, D. et al. A topological Dirac insulator in a quantum spin Hall phase. Nature 452, 970–974 (2008)

    CAS  ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Chen, Y. L. et al. Experimental realization of a three-dimensional topological insulator, Bi2Te3 . Science 325, 178–181 (2009)

    CAS  ADS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  11. Li, Y.-Y. et al. Growth dynamics and thickness-dependent electronic structure of topological insulator Bi2Te3 thin films on Si. Preprint at 〈http://arxiv.org/abs/0912.5054v1〉 (2009)

  12. Guo, H.-M. & Franz, M. Theory of quasiparticle interference on the surface of a strong topological insulator. Phys. Rev. B 81, 041102(R) (2010)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Biswas, R. R. & Balatsky, A. V. Scattering from surface step edges in strong topological insulators. Preprint at 〈http://arxiv.org/abs/0912.4477v2〉 (2010)

  14. Zhou, X., Fang, C., Tasi, W.-F. & Hu, J. Theory of quasiparticle scattering in a two-dimensional system of helical Dirac fermions: surface band structure of a three-dimensional topological insulator. Phys. Rev. B 80, 245317 (2009)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Roushan, P. et al. Topological surface states protected from backscattering by chiral spin texture. Nature 460, 1106–1109 (2009)

    CAS  ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Alpichshev, Z. et al. STM imaging of electronic waves on the surface of Bi2Te3: topologically protected surface states and hexagonal warping effects. Phys. Rev. Lett. 104, 016401 (2010)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Zhang, T. et al. Experimental demonstration of the topological surface states protected by the time-reversal symmetry. Phys. Rev. Lett. 103, 266803 (2009)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Gomes, K. K. et al. Quantum imaging of topologically unpaired spin-polarized Dirac fermions. Preprint at 〈http://arxiv.org/abs/0909.0921v2〉 (2009)

  19. Bürgi, L., Jeandupeux, O., Brune, H. & Kern, K. Probing hot-electron dynamics at surfaces with a cold scanning tunneling microscope. Phys. Rev. Lett. 82, 4516–4519 (1999)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Bürgi, L., Jeandupeux, O., Hirstein, A., Brune, H. & Kern, K. Confinement of surface state electrons in Fabry-Pérot resonators. Phys. Rev. Lett. 81, 5370–5373 (1998)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Crommie, M. F., Lutz, C. P. & Eigler, D. M. Imaging standing waves in a two-dimensional electron gas. Nature 363, 524–527 (1993)

    CAS  ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Avouris, P. & Lyo, I.-W. Observation of quantum size effects at room temperature on metal surfaces with STM. Science 264, 942–945 (1993)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Mugarza, A. et al. Lateral quantum wells at vicinal Au(111) studied with angle-resolved photoemission. Phys. Rev. B 66, 245419 (2002)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Pivetta, M., Silly, F., Patthey, F., Pelz, J. P. & Schneider, W.-D. Reading the ripples of confined surface-state electrons: profiles of constant integrated local density of states. Phys. Rev. B 67, 193402 (2003)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Li, J., Schneider, W.-D., Berndt, R. & Crampin, S. Electron confinement to nanoscale Ag islands on Ag(111): a quantitative study. Phys. Rev. Lett. 80, 3332–3335 (1998)

    CAS  ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Heller, E. J., Crommie, M. F., Lutz, C. P. & Eigler, D. M. Scattering and absorption of surface electron waves in quantum corrals. Nature 369, 464–466 (1994)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Fiete, G. A. & Heller, E. J. Theory of quantum corrals and quantum mirages. Rev. Mod. Phys. 75, 933–948 (2003)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

We gratefully acknowledge discussions with B. A. Bernevig, B. Boyanov, M. Z. Hasan and N. P. Ong. This work was supported by grants from the NSF-MRSEC programme through the Princeton Center for Complex Materials, the ARO, the DOE, the NSF-DMR and the W. M. Keck Foundation. P.R. acknowledges support by a NSF graduate fellowship.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

Y.S.H. and R.J.C. carried out the growth of the single crystals and characterized them; STM measurements and data analysis were done by J.S., P.R., H.B. and A.Y. All authors discussed the results and contributed to the writing of the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ali Yazdani.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Figures S1 - S5 with legends, Supplementary Methods and Data and References. (PDF 1309 kb)

PowerPoint slides

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Seo, J., Roushan, P., Beidenkopf, H. et al. Transmission of topological surface states through surface barriers. Nature 466, 343–346 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature09189

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/nature09189

Further reading

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing