Observation of Dirac Node Formation and Mass Acquisition in a Topological Crystalline Insulator

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Science  27 Sep 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6153, pp. 1496-1499
DOI: 10.1126/science.1239451

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Certain materials, such as topological crystalline insulators (TCIs), host robust surface states that have a Dirac (graphene-like) dispersion associated with massless carriers; the breaking of protective symmetry within such materials should cause the carriers to acquire mass. Okada et al. (p. 1496, published online 29 August) used scanning tunneling microscopy to map out the energies of the electronic levels of the TCI Pb1-xSnxSe as a function of the strength of an external magnetic field. The massless Dirac fermions coexisted with massive ones, presumably as a consequence of a distortion of the crystalline structure affecting only one of the two mirror symmetries.


In topological crystalline insulators (TCIs), topology and crystal symmetry intertwine to create surface states with distinct characteristics. The breaking of crystal symmetry in TCIs is predicted to impart mass to the massless Dirac fermions. Here, we report high-resolution scanning tunneling microscopy studies of a TCI, Pb1-xSnxSe that reveal the coexistence of zero-mass Dirac fermions protected by crystal symmetry with massive Dirac fermions consistent with crystal symmetry breaking. In addition, we show two distinct regimes of the Fermi surface topology separated by a Van-Hove singularity at the Lifshitz transition point. Our work paves the way for engineering the Dirac band gap and realizing interaction-driven topological quantum phenomena in TCIs.

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