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Tunable symmetry breaking and helical edge transport in a graphene quantum spin Hall state

Published in Nature 505 (23 Jan. 2014): Our new paper on the quantum spin Hall effect in graphene, in collaboration with the Jarillo-Herrero group:

(also available on the arXiv here)

Low-dimensional electronic systems have traditionally been obtained by electrostatically confining electrons, either in heterostructures or in intrinsically nanoscale materials such as single molecules, nanowires, and graphene. Recently, a new paradigm has emerged with the advent of symmetry-protected surface states on the boundary of topological insulators, enabling the creation of electronic systems with novel properties. For example, time reversal symmetry (TRS) endows the massless charge carriers on the surface of a three-dimensional topological insulator with helicity, locking the orientation of their spin relative to their momentum. Weakly breaking this symmetry generates a gap on the surface, resulting in charge carriers with finite effective mass and exotic spin textures. Analogous manipulations of the one-dimensional boundary states of a two-dimensional topological insulator are also possible, but have yet to be observed in the leading candidate materials. Here, we demonstrate experimentally that charge neutral monolayer graphene displays a new type of quantum spin Hall (QSH) effect, previously thought to exist only in TRS topological insulators, when it is subjected to a very large magnetic field angled with respect to the graphene plane. Unlike in the TRS case, the QSH presented here is protected by a spin-rotation symmetry that emerges as electron spins in a half-filled Landau level are polarized by the large in-plane magnetic field. The properties of the resulting helical edge states can be modulated by balancing the applied field against an intrinsic antiferromagnetic instability, which tends to spontaneously break the spin-rotation symmetry. In the resulting canted antiferromagnetic (CAF) state, we observe transport signatures of gapped edge states, which constitute a new kind of one-dimensional electronic system with tunable band gap and associated spin-texture.