Research Article

Quantum Spin Hall Insulator State in HgTe Quantum Wells

Science  02 Nov 2007:
Vol. 318, Issue 5851, pp. 766-770
DOI: 10.1126/science.1148047

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Abstract

Recent theory predicted that the quantum spin Hall effect, a fundamentally new quantum state of matter that exists at zero external magnetic field, may be realized in HgTe/(Hg,Cd)Te quantum wells. We fabricated such sample structures with low density and high mobility in which we could tune, through an external gate voltage, the carrier conduction from n-type to p-type, passing through an insulating regime. For thin quantum wells with well width d < 6.3 nanometers, the insulating regime showed the conventional behavior of vanishingly small conductance at low temperature. However, for thicker quantum wells (d > 6.3 nanometers), the nominally insulating regime showed a plateau of residual conductance close to 2e2/h, where e is the electron charge and h is Planck's constant. The residual conductance was independent of the sample width, indicating that it is caused by edge states. Furthermore, the residual conductance was destroyed by a small external magnetic field. The quantum phase transition at the critical thickness, d = 6.3 nanometers, was also independently determined from the magnetic field–induced insulator-to-metal transition. These observations provide experimental evidence of the quantum spin Hall effect.

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