Common path interference in Zener tunneling is a universal phenomenon

Sonika Johri, Rahul Nandkishore, R. N. Bhatt, E. J. Mele

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3 Scopus citations


We show that the probability of electric-field-induced interband tunneling in solid-state systems is generically a nonmonotonic (oscillatory) function of the applied field. This unexpected behavior can be understood as arising due to a common path interference between two distinct tunneling solutions. The phenomenon is insensitive to magnetic field, and arises whenever the low-energy dispersion relation contains higher order terms in addition to the usual p2 term. Such higher order terms are generically present, albeit with small coefficient, so that the oscillatory Zener tunneling is a universal phenomenon. However, the first "Zener oscillation" occurs at a transmission probability which is exponentially small when the coefficient of the higher order terms is small. This explains why this oscillatory aspect of Zener tunneling has been hitherto overlooked, despite its universality. The common path interference is also destroyed by the presence of odd powers of p in the low-energy dispersion relation. Since odd powers of p are strictly absent only when the tunneling barrier lies along an axis of mirror symmetry, it follows that the robustness of the oscillatory behavior depends on the orientation of the tunneling barrier. Bilayer graphene is identified as a particularly good material for observation of common path interference, due to its unusual nearly isotropic dispersion relation, where the p4 term makes the leading contribution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number235413
JournalPhysical Review B - Condensed Matter and Materials Physics
Issue number23
StatePublished - Jun 12 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
  • Condensed Matter Physics


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