Colloquium: Topological insulators

  • Hasan M
  • Kane C
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Topological insulators are electronic materials that have a bulk band gap like an ordinary insulator, but have protected conducting states on their edge or surface. The 2D topological insulator is a quantum spin Hall insulator, which is a close cousin of the integer quantum Hall state. A 3D topological insulator supports novel spin polarized 2D Dirac fermions on its surface. In this Colloquium article we will review the theoretical foundation for these electronic states and describe recent experiments in which their signatures have been observed. We will describe transport experiments on HgCdTe quantum wells that demonstrate the existence of the edge states predicted for the quantum spin Hall insulator. We will then discuss experiments on Bi$_{1-x}$Sb$_x$, Bi$_2$Se$_3$, Bi$_2$Te$_3$ and Sb$_2$Te$_3$ that establish these materials as 3D topological insulators and directly probe the topology of their surface states. We will then describe exotic states that can occur at the surface of a 3D topological insulator due to an induced energy gap. A magnetic gap leads to a novel quantum Hall state that gives rise to a topological magnetoelectric effect. A superconducting energy gap leads to a state that supports Majorana fermions, and may provide a new venue for realizing proposals for topological quantum computation. We will close by discussing prospects for observing these exotic states, a well as other potential device applications of topological insulators.

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  • M. Z. Hasan

  • C. L. Kane

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