Observation of Chiral Surface Excitons in a Topological Insulator Bi_2Se_3
We observe novel composite particles -- chiral excitons -- residing on the surface of a topological insulator (TI), Bi_2Se_3. Unlike other known excitons composed of massive quasiparticles, chiral excitons are the bound states of surface massless electrons and surface massive holes, both subject to strong spin-orbit coupling which locks their spins and momenta into chiral textures. Due to this unusual feature, chiral excitons emit circularly polarized secondary light (photoluminescence) that conserves the polarization of incident light. This means that the out-of-plane angular momentum of a chiral excitonis preserved against scattering events during thermalization, thus enabling optical orientation of carriers even at room temperature. The discovery of chiral excitons adds to the potential of TIs as a platform for photonics and optoelectronics devices.
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Award ID(s):
Publication Date:
NSF-PAR ID:
10093633
Journal Name:
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume:
116
Issue:
10
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
4006-4011
ISSN:
0027-8424
1. The protected electron states at the boundaries or on the surfaces of topological insulators (TIs) have been the subject of intense theoretical and experimental investigations. Such states are enforced by very strong spin–orbit interaction in solids composed of heavy elements. Here, we study the composite particles—chiral excitons—formed by the Coulomb attraction between electrons and holes residing on the surface of an archetypical 3D TI,$Bi2Se3$. Photoluminescence (PL) emission arising due to recombination of excitons in conventional semiconductors is usually unpolarized because of scattering by phonons and other degrees of freedom during exciton thermalization. On the contrary, we observe almost perfectly polarization-preserving PL emission from chiral excitons. We demonstrate that the chiral excitons can be optically oriented with circularly polarized light in a broad range of excitation energies, even when the latter deviate from the (apparent) optical band gap by hundreds of millielectronvolts, and that the orientation remains preserved even at room temperature. Based on the dependences of the PL spectra on the energy and polarization of incident photons, we propose that chiral excitons are made from massive holes and massless (Dirac) electrons, both with chiral spin textures enforced by strong spin–orbit coupling. A theoretical model basedmore »