Date of Degree

5-2015

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Physics

Advisor(s)

Lia Krusin-Elbaum

Subject Categories

Physics

Keywords

disorder; irradiation; spin response; superconductivity; topological insulator; transport

Abstract

Topological insulators are a class of solids in which the non-trivial inverted bulk band structure gives rise to metallic surface states that are robust against impurity backscattering. First principle calculations predicted Bi2Te3, Sb2Te3 and Bi2Se3 to be three-dimensional (3D) topological insulators with a single Dirac cone on the surface. The topological surface states were subsequently observed by angle-resolved photoemission (ARPES) and scanning tunneling microscopy (STM). The investigations of charge transport through topological surfaces of 3D topological insulators, however, have faced a major challenge due to large charge carrier densities in the bulk donated by randomly distributed defects such as vacancies and antisites. This bulk disorder intermixes surface and bulk conduction channels, thereby complicating access to the low-energy (Dirac point) charge transport or magnetic response and resulting in the relatively low measured carrier mobilities. Moreover, charge inhomogeneity arising from bulk disorder can result in pronounced nanoscale spatial fluctuations of energy on the surface, leading to the formation of surface 'puddles' of different carrier types. Great efforts have been made to combat the undesirable effects of disorder in 3D topological insulators and to reduce bulk carriers through chemical doping, nanostructure fabrication, and electric gating. In this work we have developed a new way to reduce bulk carrier densities using high-energy electron irradiation, thereby allowing us access to the topological surface quantum channels. We also found that disorder in 3D topological insulators can be beneficial. It can play an important part in enabling detection of unusual magnetic response from Dirac fermions and in uncovering new excitations, namely surface superconductivity in Dirac 'puddles'.

In Chapter 3 we show how by using differential magnetometry we could probe spin rotation in the 3D topological material family (Bi2Se3, Bi2Te3 and Sb2Te3), and describe our detection of paramagnetic singularity in the magnetic susceptibility at low magnetic fields that persists up to room temperature, and which we have demonstrated to arise from the surfaces of the samples. The singularity is universal to the entire family, largely independent of the bulk carrier density, and consistent with the existence of electronic states near the spin-degenerate Dirac point of the 2D helical metal. The exceptional thermal stability of the signal points to an intrinsic surface cooling process, probably of thermoelectric organ, and establishes a sustainable platform for the singular field-tunable Dirac spin response.

In Chapter 4 we describe our discovery of surface superconductivity in a hole-conducting topological insulator Sb2Te3 with transition to zero resistance induced through a minor tuning of growth chemistry that depletes bulk conduction channels. The depletion shifts Fermi energy towards the Dirac point as witnessed by over two orders of magnitude reduced bulk hole density and by the largest carrier mobility (~ 25,000 cm2 V-1s-1) found in any topological material. Direct evidence from transport, the unprecedentedly large diamagnetic screening, and the presence of up to ~ 25 meV gaps in differential conductance detected by scanning tunneling spectroscopy (STM) reveal the superconducting condensate to emerge first in surface puddles at unexpectedly high temperature, near 50 K. Percolative Josephson paths mediated by diffusing quasiparticles establish global phase coherence around 9 K. Rich structure of this state lends itself to manipulation and tuning via growth conditions and the topological material's parameters such as Fermi velocity and mean free path.

In Chapter 5 we describe a new approach we have developed to reaching stable charge neutrality in 3D topological materials. The technique uses swift (~ 2.5 MeV energy) electron beams to compensate charged bulk defects and bring the Fermi level back into the bulk gap. By controlling the beam fluence we could tune bulk conductivity from p- (hole-like) to n-type (electron-like), crossing the Dirac point and back, while preserving the robust topological signatures of surface channels. We establish that at charge neutrality conductance has a two-dimensional (2D) character with a minimum value on the order of ten conductance quanta G0 = e2 / h. From quantum interference contribution to 2D conductance we demonstrate in two systems, Bi2Te3 and Bi2Se3, that at charge neutrality only two quantum channels corresponding to two topological surfaces are present. The charge neutrality point achieved using electron irradiation with long penetration range shows a route to intrinsic quantum transport of the topological states unconstrained by the bulk size.

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