Effects of bulk charged impurities on the bulk and surface transport in three-dimensional topological insulators

B. Skinner, T. Chen, B. I. Shklovskii

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


In the three-dimensional topological insulator (TI), the physics of doped semiconductors exists literally side-by-side with the physics of ultrarelativistic Dirac fermions. This unusual pairing creates a novel playground for studying the interplay between disorder and electronic transport. In this mini-review, we focus on the disorder caused by the three-dimensionally distributed charged impurities that are ubiquitous in TIs, and we outline the effects it has on both the bulk and surface transport in TIs. We present self-consistent theories for Coulomb screening both in the bulk and at the surface, discuss the magnitude of the disorder potential in each case, and present results for the conductivity. In the bulk, where the band gap leads to thermally activated transport, we show how disorder leads to a smaller-than-expected activation energy that gives way to variable-range hopping at low temperatures. We confirm this enhanced conductivity with numerical simulations that also allow us to explore different degrees of impurity compensation. For the surface, where the TI has gapless Dirac modes, we present a theory of disorder and screening of deep impurities, and we calculate the corresponding zero-temperature conductivity. We also comment on the growth of the disorder potential in passing from the surface of the TI into the bulk. Finally, we discuss how the presence of a gap at the Dirac point, introduced by some source of time-reversal symmetry breaking, affects the disorder potential at the surface and the mid-gap density of states.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)579-592
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Experimental and Theoretical Physics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS We are grateful to Y. Ando, A. L. Efros, H. Beiden kopf, M. M. Fogler, M. S. Fuhrer, Yu. M. Galperin, J. Kakalios, Q. Li, M. Müller, N. P. Ong, and A. Yazdani for helpful discussions. This work was sup ported primarily by the National Science Foundation through the University of Minnesota MRSEC under Award Number DMR–0819885. T. Chen was partially supported by the FTPI.

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