Correlated Topological Insulators and the Fractional Magnetoelectric Effect

Research paper by Brian Swingle, Maissam Barkeshli, John McGreevy, T. Senthil

Indexed on: 06 May '10Published on: 06 May '10Published in: Physics - Strongly Correlated Electrons


Topological insulators are characterized by the presence of gapless surface modes protected by time-reversal symmetry. In three space dimensions the magnetoelectric response is described in terms of a bulk theta term for the electromagnetic field. Here we construct theoretical examples of such phases that cannot be smoothly connected to any band insulator. Such correlated topological insulators admit the possibility of fractional magnetoelectric response described by fractional theta/pi. We show that fractional theta/pi is only possible in a gapped time reversal invariant system of bosons or fermions if the system also has deconfined fractional excitations and associated degenerate ground states on topologically non-trivial spaces. We illustrate this result with a concrete example of a time reversal symmetric topological insulator of correlated bosons with theta = pi/4. Extensions to electronic fractional topological insulators are briefly described.