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Chirality-driven topological electronic structure of DNA-like materials


Topological aspects of the geometry of DNA and similar chiral molecules have received a lot of attention, but the topology of their electronic structure is less explored. Previous experiments revealed that DNA can efficiently filter spin-polarized electrons between metal contacts, a process called chiral-induced spin selectivity. However, the underlying correlation between chiral structure and electronic spin remains elusive. In this work, we reveal an orbital texture in the band structure, a topological characteristic induced by the chirality. We found that this orbital texture enables the chiral molecule to polarize the quantum orbital. This orbital polarization effect (OPE) induces spin polarization assisted by the spin–orbit interaction of a metal contact and leads to magnetoresistance and chiral separation. The orbital angular momentum of photoelectrons also plays an essential role in related photoemission experiments. Beyond chiral-induced spin selectivity, we predict that the orbital polarization effect could induce spin-selective phenomena even in achiral but inversion-breaking materials.

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Fig. 1: Orbital polarization and orbital texture.
Fig. 2: Orbital polarization and spin polarization in the conductance.
Fig. 3: MR with magnetic leads.
Fig. 4: The orbital and spin polarization in an achiral system.

Data availability

All the data needed to evaluate the conclusions are present in the article and/or the Supplementary Information. Additional data related to this article may be requested from the authors.


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We thank A. Stern and Y. Oreg for advice, discussions and help. We also acknowledge inspiring discussions with R. Naaman, Y. Paltiel, Z. Wang, C. Yam, L. Muechler, T. Holder, R. Queiroz, K. Michaelia, L. Kronik, B.J. van Wees, X. Yang, S. Murakami, E. J. Mele and C. Felser. B.Y. honours the memory of S. Zhang who inspired him to investigate chirality in both physics and biology. B.Y. acknowledges financial support from the Willner Family Leadership Institute for the Weizmann Institute of Science, the Benoziyo Endowment Fund for the Advancement of Science, Ruth and Herman Albert Scholars Program for New Scientists and the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (Grant no. 815869).

Author information




B.Y. conceived and supervised the project. Y.L. and J.X. performed the tight-binding and transport calculations. J.K. performed the density functional theory calculations. B.Y., Y.L. and J.X. wrote the manuscript. All the authors discussed and analysed results.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Binghai Yan.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature Materials thanks Vladimiro Mujica, Hongming Weng 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 Figs. 1–14 and Sections 1–5.

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Liu, Y., Xiao, J., Koo, J. et al. Chirality-driven topological electronic structure of DNA-like materials. Nat. Mater. 20, 638–644 (2021).

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Further reading

  • Chiral spintronics

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    Nature Reviews Physics (2021)


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