Photoinduced transition between conventional and topological insulators in two-dimensional electronic systems

Phys Rev Lett. 2010 Jul 2;105(1):017401. doi: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.105.017401. Epub 2010 Jun 28.


Manipulating the topological properties of insulators, encoded in invariants such as the Chern number and its generalizations, is now a major issue for realizing novel charge or spin responses in electron systems. We propose that a simple optical means, subjecting to a driving laser field with circular polarization, can be fruitfully incorporated to this end. Taking as a prototypical example the two-band insulator first considered by Haldane, we show how the electron system can be tuned through phases associated with different Chern numbers as the laser intensity is adiabatically swept, i.e., a photoinduced analog of the quantum Hall plateau transition. The implications of our findings include the possibility of laser tuning a conventional insulator into a quantum spin Hall system.