Evolutions of helical edge states in disordered HgTe/CdTe quantum wells

Research paper by Liang Chen, Qin Liu, Xulin Lin, Xiaogang Zhang, Xunya Jiang

Indexed on: 21 Jun '11Published on: 21 Jun '11Published in: Physics - Mesoscopic Systems and Quantum Hall Effect


We study the evolutions of the nonmagnetic disorder-induced edge states with the disorder strength in the HgTe/CdTe quantum wells. From the supercell band structures and wave-functions, it is clearly shown that the conducting helical edge states, which are responsible for the reported quantized conductance plateau, appear above a critical disorder strength after a gap-closing phase transition. These edge states are then found to decline with the increase of disorder strength in a stepwise pattern due to the finite-width effect, where the opposite edges couple with each other through the localized states in the bulk. This is in sharp contrast with the localization of the edge states themselves if magnetic disorders are doped which breaks the time-reversal symmetry. The size-independent boundary of the topological phase is obtained by scaling analysis, and an Anderson transition to an Anderson insulator at even stronger disorder is identified, in-between of which, a metallic phase is found to separate the two topologically distinct phases.