Control over topological insulator photocurrents with light polarization

Nat Nanotechnol. 2011 Dec 4;7(2):96-100. doi: 10.1038/nnano.2011.214.


Three-dimensional topological insulators represent a new quantum phase of matter with spin-polarized surface states that are protected from backscattering. The static electronic properties of these surface states have been comprehensively imaged by both photoemission and tunnelling spectroscopies. Theorists have proposed that topological surface states can also exhibit novel electronic responses to light, such as topological quantum phase transitions and spin-polarized electrical currents. However, the effects of optically driving a topological insulator out of equilibrium have remained largely unexplored experimentally, and no photocurrents have been measured. Here, we show that illuminating the topological insulator Bi(2)Se(3) with circularly polarized light generates a photocurrent that originates from topological helical Dirac fermions, and that reversing the helicity of the light reverses the direction of the photocurrent. We also observe a photocurrent that is controlled by the linear polarization of light and argue that it may also have a topological surface state origin. This approach may allow the probing of dynamic properties of topological insulators and lead to novel opto-spintronic devices.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bismuth / chemistry*
  • Electronics / methods
  • Lasers
  • Light*
  • Nanostructures / chemistry*
  • Optics and Photonics / instrumentation*
  • Surface Properties
  • Temperature


  • Bismuth