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project . 2021 - 2024 . On going

Quantum spin Hall effect spintronics

UK Research and Innovation
Funder: UK Research and InnovationProject code: EP/T034343/1
Funded under: EPSRC Funder Contribution: 861,847 GBP
Status: On going
31 Mar 2021 (Started) 29 Sep 2024 (Ending)

In this project we shall investigate the potential for spintronics of the quantum spin Hall (QSH) regime in hybrid nanostructures made by attaching ferromagnetic metal contacts to the edge states of two-dimensional topological insulators. These 2D materials will be formed from semiconducting InAs/GaSb coupled quantum wells. Being able to harness the spin-momentum-locked helical edge states in the QSH regime will have the potential for realising dramatic reductions in the power consumption of classical ICT hardware, and in the longer term offer the prospect of being useful for topological quantum computing. To build such spintronic devices, we need to know the conditions under which current flows through their edge states. We need to know the spin polarisation of a current injected from a ferromagnet into the QSH edge state, and which ferromagnetic contact material provides the largest spin-polarisation. We need to know how efficiently spins can be injected and detected in these QSH edge channels using ferromagnetic metal contacts. We also need to know over what distance spin information can propagate in the QSH edge states, and in what circumstances this distance is the longest. The project is a collaboration between the School of Physics and Astronomy, who have expertise in spintronics and the study of devices incorporating ferromagnetic materials, as well as topological materials, and the School of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, who are capable of growing ultra-high quality InAs/GaSb coupled quantum wells in their III-V semiconductor molecular beam epitaxy system. We will begin by constructing contacted InAs/GaSb mesas with top and bottom gates that allow them to be tuned into a charge-neutral and non-trivial regime, which are the correct conditions for current to flow only in the edge states. We will attach normal drain contacts on either side of a ferromagnetic source contact on a InAs/GaSb mesa and measure the drain currents from left- and right-flowing edge states in the non-trivial edge state regime; the spin-momentum locking in the QSH edge states will mean that these spatially separated currents directly correspond to the spin-resolved currents, allowing a direct measurement of the spin-polarisation of the current injected from the ferromagnet. We shall try different ferromagnetic metals to determine which one works best. We will then study the flow of a current in a QSH edge state between two closely-spaced ferromagnetic contacts, which is expected to be larger when the current flow direction is spin-momentum locked to the majority spin direction of the contacts; reversing the magnetisation direction in the contacts will invert this diode-like behaviour. The difference between forward and reverse currents will tell us the efficiency of the spin injection and detection. Moving the contacts apart will allow us to determine the length over which spins can flow coherently within the edge states by measuring the decline in difference between forward and reverse currents with spacing; we shall study this as a function of temperature in order to determine the physical mechanisms causing the loss of spin coherence. The results we shall obtain will not only lead to high impact publications and conference presentations by shedding light on the possibilities offered by this novel combination of materials, but also develop valuable know-how in the field of quantum spin Hall spintronics for technological applications.

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