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A light-induced phononic symmetry switch and giant dissipationless topological photocurrent in ZrTe5


Dissipationless currents from topologically protected states are promising for disorder-tolerant electronics and quantum computation. Here, we photogenerate giant anisotropic terahertz nonlinear currents with vanishing scattering, driven by laser-induced coherent phonons of broken inversion symmetry in a centrosymmetric Dirac material ZrTe5. Our work suggests that this phononic terahertz symmetry switching leads to formation of Weyl points, whose chirality manifests in a transverse, helicity-dependent current, orthogonal to the dynamical inversion symmetry breaking axis, via circular photogalvanic effect. The temperature-dependent topological photocurrent exhibits several distinct features: Berry curvature dominance, particle–hole reversal near conical points and chirality protection that is responsible for an exceptional ballistic transport length of ~10 μm. These results, together with first-principles modelling, indicate two pairs of Weyl points dynamically created by B1u phonons of broken inversion symmetry. Such phononic terahertz control breaks ground for coherent manipulation of Weyl nodes and robust quantum transport without application of static electric or magnetic fields.

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Fig. 1: Giant anisotropic shift current induced by broken IS phonons induced by light.
Fig. 2: Helicity-dependent photocurrent and its temperature dependence.
Fig. 3: Coherent transport of topological photocurrent with vanishing scattering.
Fig. 4: Simulations of light-induced WPs by exciting the coherent B1u mode.

Data availability

Source data are provided with this paper. All other data that support results in this Article are available from the corresponding authors upon reasonable request.


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This work was supported by the Ames Laboratory, the US Department of Energy, Office of Science, Basic Energy Sciences, Materials Science and Engineering Division under contract no. DEAC0207CH11358 (project planning, photocurrent and pump–probe spectroscopy experiment and model building). Sample development and magneto-transport measurements in Brookhaven National Laboratory (Q.L., P.M.L., G.G.) were supported by the US Department of Energy, Office of Basic Energy Science, Materials Sciences and Engineering Division, under contract no. DE-SC0012704. I.E.P. at the University of Alabama, Birmingham was supported by the US Department of Energy, Office of Science, Basic Energy Sciences under award no. DE-SC0019137 (data analysis). L.-L.W. (first-principles calculations and topological analysis) was supported by Center for the Advancement of Topological Semimetals, an Energy Frontier Research Center funded by the US Department of Energy, Office of Basic Energy Sciences. Terahertz instrument was supported in part by National Science Foundation 1905981.

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Authors and Affiliations



L.L. and D.C. performed the THz spectroscopy and photocurrent measurements. Q.L. planned the sample development, transport characterizations and data analysis with G.G. and P.M.L.; B.S. developed the photocurrent model and performed simulations with the help of J.W. and I.E.P.; L.-L.W. performed first-principles DFT calculations. J.W. and L.L. analysed the spectroscopy data with the input of C.V., C.H., R.H.J.K., J.-M.P., Y.Y. and K.H. The paper is written by J.W. and Q.L. with discussions from all authors. J.W. conceived and supervised the project.

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Correspondence to Qiang Li or Jigang Wang.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature Materials thanks Adolfo Grushin and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Notes 1–8, Figs. 1–7 and refs. 1–12.

Source data

Source Data Fig. 1

Raw numerical data for Fig. 1.

Source Data Fig. 2

Raw numerical data for Fig. 2.

Source Data Fig. 3

Raw numerical data for Fig. 3.

Source Data Fig. 4

Raw numerical data for Fig. 4.

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Luo, L., Cheng, D., Song, B. et al. A light-induced phononic symmetry switch and giant dissipationless topological photocurrent in ZrTe5. Nat. Mater. 20, 329–334 (2021).

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