The search for topologically non-trivial states of matter has become an important goal for condensed matter physics. Recently, a new class of topological insulators has been proposed. These topological insulators have an insulating gap in the bulk, but have topologically protected edge states due to the time reversal symmetry. In two dimensions the helical edge states give rise to the quantum spin Hall (QSH) effect, in the absence of any external magnetic field. Here we review a recent theory which predicts that the QSH state can be realized in HgTe/CdTe semiconductor quantum wells (QWs). By varying the thickness of the QW, the band structure changes from a normal to an "inverted" type at a critical thickness dc. We present an analytical solution of the helical edge states and explicitly demonstrate their topological stability. We also review the recent experimental observation of the QSH state in HgTe/(Hg,Cd)Te QWs. We review both the fabrication of the sample and the experimental setup. For thin QWs with well width dQW < 6:3 nm, the insulating regime shows the conventional behavior of vanishingly small conductance at low temperature. However, for thicker QWs (dQW > 6:3 nm), the nominally insulating regime shows a plateau of residual conductance close to 2e2=h. The residual conductance is independent of the sample width, indicating that it is caused by edge states. Furthermore, the residual conductance is destroyed by a small external magnetic field. The quantum phase transition at the critical thickness, dc = 6:3 nm, is also independently determined from the occurrence of a magnetic field induced insulator to metal transition.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- General Physics and Astronomy