Topological insulators are electronic materials that have a bulk band gap like an ordinary insulator but have protected conducting states on their edge or surface. These states are possible due to the combination of spin-orbit interactions and time-reversal symmetry. The two-dimensional (2D) topological insulator is a quantum spin Hall insulator, which is a close cousin of the integer quantum Hall state. A three-dimensional (3D) topological insulator supports novel spin-polarized 2D Dirac fermions on its surface. In this Colloquium the theoretical foundation for topological insulators and superconductors is reviewed and recent experiments are described in which the signatures of topological insulators have been observed. Transport experiments on HgTe/CdTe quantum wells are described that demonstrate the existence of the edge states predicted for the quantum spin Hall insulator. Experiments on Bi1_xSbx, Bi2Se3, Bi2Te3, and Sb2Te3 are then discussed that establish these materials as 3D topological insulators and directly probe the topology of their surface states. Exotic states are described that can occur at the surface of a 3D topological insulator due to an induced energy gap. A magnetic gap leads to a novel quantum Hall state that gives rise to a topological magnetoelectric effect. A superconducting energy gap leads to a state that supports Majorana fermions and may provide a new venue for realizing proposals for topological quantum computation. Prospects for observing these exotic states are also discussed, as well as other potential device applications of topological insulators.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Physics and Astronomy(all)