Date of Award

Summer 2011

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Physics & Astronomy

First Advisor

Charles L. Kane

Abstract

We study theoretical properties of robust low energy electronic excitations associated with topological insulators and superconductors. The bulk materials are described by non-interacting single particle band Hamiltonians with a finite excitation gap. Their topological phases are classifed according to symmetries and dimensions, characterized by discrete bulk invariants, and correspond to topologically protected gapless excitations bounded to boundaries, interfaces or other kinds of defects. In particular, we study the metallic surface states of the three dimensional topological insulator Bi1-xSbx, critical edge transport behavior of quantum spin Hall insulators (QSHI) using point contact geometry, Majorana bound states in three dimensions and their resemblance to Ising statistics, and various gapless modes accompanying topological defects in insulators and superconductors. We illustrate the topological phase of Bi1-xSbx by calculating its surface energy spectrum numerically from a previously proposed tight binding model. An odd number of surface Dirac cones occupy the surface Brillouin zone and exhibit the strong topological nature of the material. We investigate the critical conductance behavior of a point contact in QSHI using a spinful Luttinger liquid description along the edges. For weak interactions, a novel intermediate fixed point controls the pinch-off transition, and the universal crossover scaling function of conductance is extracted from the solvable limits for the Luttinger parameter g=1-ɛ, g=1/2+ɛ, and g=1/31/2. Majorana fermions are studied as zero energy quasiparticle excitations associated with pointlike topological defects in 3D superconductors. The low energy modes are described phenomenologically in a Dirac-type Bogoliubov de Gennes (BdG) framework, and the Majorana bound states are shown to exhibit Ising non-Abelian statistics despite living in (3+1) dimensions. In particular, novel braidless operations are shown to be responsible for fermion parity pumping processes, and are unique features in 3D. A unified framework to classify topological defects in insulators and superconductors is developed. A 2+8-fold periodic classification is discovered. A generalized bulk-boundary correspondence equates the topology to robust gapless defect modes. Physical proposals are made especially using heterostructures to achieve desirable low energy electronic excitations in line and point defects as well as adiabatic cycles.

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