Topological Phase Transition and Texture Inversion in a Tunable Topological Insulator

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Science  29 Apr 2011:
Vol. 332, Issue 6029, pp. 560-564
DOI: 10.1126/science.1201607

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The recently discovered three-dimensional or bulk topological insulators are expected to exhibit exotic quantum phenomena. It is believed that a trivial insulator can be twisted into a topological state by modulating the spin-orbit interaction or the crystal lattice, driving the system through a topological quantum phase transition. By directly measuring the topological quantum numbers and invariants, we report the observation of a phase transition in a tunable spin-orbit system, BiTl(S1–δSeδ)2, in which the topological state formation is visualized. In the topological state, vortex-like polarization states are observed to exhibit three-dimensional vectorial textures, which collectively feature a chirality transition as the spin momentum–locked electrons on the surface go through the zero carrier density point. Such phase transition and texture inversion can be the physical basis for observing fractional charge (±e/2) and other fractional topological phenomena.

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