We have used scanning tunnelling spectroscopy and angle-resolved photoemission spectroscopy to visualize the gapless surface states in the three-dimensional topological insulator Bi1‑xSbx, and examine in detail the influence of scattering from disorder caused by random alloying in this compound. A key predicted feature of such spin-textured surface states is their insensitivity to spin-independent scattering, which is thought to protect them from backscattering and localization. We show that, despite strong atomic scale disorder, backscattering between states of opposite momentum and opposite spin is absent. Our observations demonstrate that the chiral nature of these states protects the spin of the carriers. These chiral states are therefore potentially useful for spin-based electronics, in which long spin coherence is critical, and also for quantum computing applications, where topological protection can enable fault-tolerant information processing.
Published in Nature:
Topological Surface States Protected From Backscattering by Chiral Spin Texture, Pedram Roushan, Jungpil Seo, Colin V. Parker, Y. S. Hor, D. Hsieh, Dong Qian, Anthony Richardella, M. Z. Hasan, R. J. Cava and Ali Yazdani, Nature 460, 1106-1109 (2009). (Letter)