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The discovery of the quantum spin Hall (QSH) state, and topological insulators in general, has sparked strong experimental efforts. Transport studies of the quantum spin Hall state have confirmed the presence of edge states, showed ballistic edge transport in micron-sized samples, and demonstrated the spin polarization of the helical edge states. While these experiments have confirmed the broad theoretical model, the properties of the QSH edge states have not yet been investigated on a local scale. Using scanning gate microscopy to perturb the QSH edge states on a submicron scale, we identify well-localized scattering sites which likely limit the expected nondissipative transport in the helical edge channels. In the micron-sized regions between the scattering sites, the edge states appear to propagate unperturbed, as expected for an ideal QSH system, and are found to be robust against weak induced potential fluctuations.

Unexpected edge conduction in mercury telluride quantum wells under broken time-reversal symmetry
(2015)

The realization of quantum spin Hall effect in HgTe quantum wells is considered a milestone in the discovery of topological insulators. Quantum spin Hall states are predicted to allow current flow at the edges of an insulating bulk, as demonstrated in various experiments. A key prediction yet to be experimentally verified is the breakdown of the edge conduction under broken time-reversal symmetry. Here we first establish a systematic framework for the magnetic field dependence of electrostatically gated quantum spin Hall devices. We then study edge conduction of an inverted quantum well device under broken time-reversal symmetry using microwave impedance microscopy, and compare our findings to a noninverted device. At zero magnetic field, only the inverted device shows clear edge conduction in its local conductivity profile, consistent with theory. Surprisingly, the edge conduction persists up to 9 T with little change. This indicates physics beyond simple quantum spin Hall model, including material-specific properties and possibly many-body effects.

We report magnetotransport studies on a gated strained HgTe device. This material is a three-dimensional topological insulator and exclusively shows surface-state transport. Remarkably, the Landau-level dispersion and the accuracy of the Hall quantization remain unchanged over a wide density range (3×1011 cm−2<n<2×1012 cm−2). These observations imply that even at large carrier densities, the transport is surface-state dominated, where bulk transport would have been expected to coexist already. Moreover, the density dependence of the Dirac-type quantum Hall effect allows us to identify the contributions from the individual surfaces. A k⋅p model can describe the experiments but only when assuming a steep band bending across the regions where the topological surface states are contained. This steep potential originates from the specific screening properties of Dirac systems and causes the gate voltage to influence the position of the Dirac points rather than that of the Fermi level.

Strained bulk HgTe is a three-dimensional topological insulator, whose surface electrons have a high mobility (~ 30 000 cm\(^2\)=Vs), while its bulk is effectively free of mobile charge carriers. These properties enable a study of transport through its unconventional surface states without being hindered by a parallel bulk conductance. Here, we show transport experiments on HgTe-based Josephson junctions to investigate the appearance of the predicted Majorana states at the interface between a topological insulator and a superconductor. Interestingly, we observe a dissipationless supercurrent flow through the topological surface states of HgTe. The current-voltage characteristics are hysteretic at temperatures below 1 K, with critical supercurrents of several microamperes. Moreover, we observe a magnetic-field-induced Fraunhofer pattern of the critical supercurrent, indicating a dominant \(2\pi\)-periodic Josephson effect in the unconventional surface states. Our results show that strained bulk HgTe is a promising material system to get a better understanding of the Josephson effect in topological surface states, and to search for the manifestation of zero-energy Majorana states in transport experiments.