Physics at Virginia

"Massless and Massive Electrons: Relativistic Physics in Condensed Matter Systems"

Vidya Madhavan , University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
[Host: Jeffrey Teo]

Electrons in free space have a well-defined mass. Recently, a new class of materials called topological insulators were discovered, where the low energy electrons have zero mass. In fact, these electrons can be described by the same massless Dirac equation that is used to describe relativistic particles travelling close to the speed of light. In this talk I will describe our recent experimental and theoretical investigations of a class of materials called Topological Crystalline Insulators (TCIs) [1]. TCIs are recently discovered materials [2,3] where topology and crystal symmetry intertwine to create linearly dispersing Fermions similar to graphene. To study this material we used a scanning tunneling microscope [3,4,5]. With the help of our high-resolution data, I will show how zero-mass electrons and massive electrons can coexist in the same material. I will discuss the conditions to obtain these zero mass electrons as well the method to impart a controllable mass to the particles and show how our studies create a path to engineering the Dirac band gap and realizing interaction-driven topological quantum phenomena in TCIs.


[1] L. Fu, Topological Crystalline Insulators. Phys. Rev. Lett. 106, 106802 (2011).

[2] T. H. Hsieh et al., Topological crystalline insulators in the SnTe material class. Nat.Commun. 3, 982 (2012).

[3] Y. Okada, et al., Observation of Dirac node formation and mass acquisition in a topological crystalline insulator, Science 341, 1496-1499 (2013)

[4] Ilija Zeljkovic, et al., Mapping the unconventional orbital texture in topological crystalline insulators, Nature Physics 10, 572–577 (2014)

[5] Ilija Zeljkovic, et al., Dirac mass generation from crystal symmetry breaking on the surfaces of topological crystalline insulators, arXiv:1403.4906

Friday, December 5, 2014
3:30 PM
Physics Building, Room 204
Note special room.

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