Unexpected edge conduction in mercury telluride quantum wells under broken time-reversal symmetry

Nat Commun. 2015 May 26;6:7252. doi: 10.1038/ncomms8252.


The realization of quantum spin Hall effect in HgTe quantum wells is considered a milestone in the discovery of topological insulators. Quantum spin Hall states are predicted to allow current flow at the edges of an insulating bulk, as demonstrated in various experiments. A key prediction yet to be experimentally verified is the breakdown of the edge conduction under broken time-reversal symmetry. Here we first establish a systematic framework for the magnetic field dependence of electrostatically gated quantum spin Hall devices. We then study edge conduction of an inverted quantum well device under broken time-reversal symmetry using microwave impedance microscopy, and compare our findings to a non-inverted device. At zero magnetic field, only the inverted device shows clear edge conduction in its local conductivity profile, consistent with theory. Surprisingly, the edge conduction persists up to 9 T with little change. This indicates physics beyond simple quantum spin Hall model, including material-specific properties and possibly many-body effects.

Publication types

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