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Nanoscale Res Lett. 2011; 6(1): 452.
Published online 2011 July 14. doi:  10.1186/1556-276X-6-452
PMCID: PMC3211872

Topological confinement in an antisymmetric potential in bilayer graphene in the presence of a magnetic field

Abstract

We investigate the effect of an external magnetic field on the carrier states that are localized at a potential kink and a kink-antikink in bilayer graphene. These chiral states are localized at the interface between two potential regions with opposite signs.

PACS numbers: 71.10.Pm, 73.21.-b, 81.05.Uw

Introduction

Carbon-based electronic structures have been the focus of intense research since the discovery of fullerenes and carbon nanotubes[1]. More recently, the production of atomic layers of hexagonal carbon (graphene) has renewed that interest, with the observation of striking mechanical and electronic properties, as well as ultrarelativistic-like phenomena in condensed matter systems[2-4]. In that context, bilayer graphene (BLG), which is a system with two coupled sheets of graphene, has been shown to have features that make it a possible substitute of silicon in microelectronic devices. The carrier dispersion of pristine BLG is gapless and approximately parabolic at two points in the Brillouin zone (K and K'). However, it has been found that the application of perpendicular electric fields produced by external gates deposited on the BLG surface can induce a gap in the spectrum. The electric field creates a charge imbalance between the layers which leads to a gap in the spectrum[5,6]. The tailoring of the gap by an external field may be particularly useful for the development of devices. It has been recently recognized that a tunable energy gap in BLG can allow the observation of new confined electronic states[7,8], which could be obtained by applying a spatially varying potential profile to create a position-dependent gap analogous to semiconductor heterojunctions.

An alternative way to create one dimensional localized states in BLG has recently been suggested by Martin et al.[9] and relies on the creation of a potential "kink" by an asymmetric potential profile (see Figure Figure1).1). It has been shown that localized chiral states arise at the location of the kink, with energies inside the energy gap. These states correspond to uni-directional motion of electrons which are analogous to the edge states in a quantum Hall system and show a valley-dependent propagation along the kink. From a practical standpoint, the kinks may be envisaged as configurable metallic nanowires embedded in a semiconductor medium. Moreover, the carrier states in this system are expected to be robust with regards to scattering and may display Luttinger liquid behavior[10]. Such kink potentials can be realized in e.g. p-n junctions. Recently the transport properties of p-n-p junctions in bilayer graphene were investigated experimentally in the presence of a perpendicular magnetic field[11].

Figure 1
(Color online) Schematic illustration of the bilayer graphene device for the creation of a kink potential. Applied gated voltage to the upper and lower layers with opposite sign induce a spacial dependent electric field Ee. An external magnetic field ...

An additional tool for the manipulation of charge states is the use of magnetic fields. The application of an external magnetic field perpendicular to the BLG sheet causes the appearance of Landau levels which can be significantly modified by the induced gap, leading to effect s such as the lifting of valley degeneracy caused by the breaking of the inversion symmetry due to the electrostatic bias[12,13]. The presence of a magnetic field in conjunction with electrostatic potential barriers in BLG has been shown to lead to a rich set of behaviors in which Landau quantization competes with the electrostatic confinement-induced quantization[14].

In the present work we investigate the properties of localized states in a kink potential profile under a perpendicular external magnetic field, both for the case of a single potential kink, as well as for a kink-antikink pair. One advantage of such a setup is the fact that in an experimental realization of this system the number of one-dimensional metallic channels and their subsequent magnetic response can be configurable, by controlling the gate voltages. As shown by our numerical results, the influence of the magnetic field can be strikingly distinct for single and double kinks.

Model

We employ a reduced two-band continuum model to describe the BG sheet. In this model, the system is described by four sublattices in the upper (A, B) and lower (A' and B') layers[2]. The interlayer coupling is given by the hopping parameter t ≈ 400 meV between sites A and B'. The Hamiltonian around the K valley of the first Brillouin zone can be written as

equation image
(1)

where π = vF (px + ipy), px, y = -[partial differential]x,y + eAx,y is the momentum operator in the presence of an external magnetic field with Ax,y being the components of the vector potential A, vF = 106 m/s is the Fermi velocity, U(x) and -U(x) is the electrostatic potential applied to the upper and lower layers, respectively. The eigenstates of the Hamiltonian Eq. (1) are two-component spinors Ψ(x, y) = [ψa (x, y), ψb(x, y)]T, where ψa,b are the envelope functions associated with the probability amplitudes at sublattices A and B' at the respective layers of the BLG sheet. We notice that [H, py] = 0 and consequently the momentum along the y direction is a conserved quantity and therefore we can write,

equation image
(2)

where, ky are the wave vector along the y direction. When applying a perpendicular magnetic field to the bilayer sheet we employ the Landau gauge for the vector potential A = (0, B0x, 0). The Hamiltonian (1) acts on the wave function of Eq. (2) which leads to the following coupled second-order differential equations,

equation image
(3a)
equation image
(3b)

where, in the above equations we used the dimensionless units l = ħvF/t = 1.6455 nm, x' = x/l, An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is 1556-276X-6-452-i5.gif, ε = E/t, u(x') = U(x)/t, β = [eB0/ħ]l2 (= 0.0041 for B0 = 1 T). The step-like kink (see Figure Figure1)1) is modeled by,

equation image
(4)

where, ub is the maximum value of the gate voltage in dimensionless unit in each BLG layer. Here, δ denotes the width of the region in which the potential switches its sign in each layer. This parameter is determined by the distance between the gates used to create the energy gap. We solved numerically Eqs. (3) using the finite element technique to obtain the the spectrum as function of the magnetic field and the potential parameters.

I. Numerical Results

Figure 2(a) shows the spectrum for a potential kink as function of the wavevector along the kink for zero magnetic field. In this case, the potential kink is sharp, i.e. δ = 1 in Eq. (4). It is seen that the solutions of Eq. (3) for B0 = 0 are related by the transformations ϕa → - ϕb, ϕb ϕa, ky → - ky and ε → -ε. The shaded region corresponds to the continuum of free states. The dashed horizontal lines correspond to ε = ±ub and ε = 0, with ub = 0.25. These results are found in the vicinity of a single valley (K) and show the unidirectional character of the propagation, in which only states with positive group velocity are obtained. Notice that the spectrum has the property An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is 1556-276X-6-452-i7.gif. For localized states around the K' valley, we have EK' (ky) = - EK (ky). Panels (b) and (c) of Figure Figure22 present the spinor components and the probability density for the states indicated by the arrows in panel (a), corresponding to An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is 1556-276X-6-452-i8.gif (b) and An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is 1556-276X-6-452-i26.gif (c). These electron states are localized at the potential kink.

Figure 2
Energy levels for a single kink profile on bilayer graphene in the absence of magnetic field with ub = 0.25 and δ = 1. The right panels show the wave spinors and probability density corresponding to the states that are indicated by arrows in panel ...

Figure Figure33 shows the dependence of the single kink energies on the external magnetic field for (a) An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is 1556-276X-6-452-i9.gif and (b) An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is 1556-276X-6-452-i10.gif. The branches that appear for |E/t| > 0.25 correspond to Landau levels that arise from the continuum of free states. It is seen that the spectrum of confined states is very weakly influenced by the magnetic field. That is a consequence of the strong confinement of the states in the kink potential. In a semiclassical view, the movement of the carriers is constrained by the potential, which prevents the formation of cyclotron orbits.

Figure 3
Energy levels of a single kink profile in bilayer graphene as function of external magnetic field B0 with the same parameters as Fig. 2 for (a) An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is 1556-276X-6-452-i29.gifand (b) An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is 1556-276X-6-452-i30.gif.

We also calculate the oscillator strength for electric dipole transitions between the topological energy levels. The oscillator strength |<ψ*|re| ψ>|2 is given by

equation image
(5)

where, i = a, b. Figure Figure44 shows the oscillator strength and the corresponding transition energy ΔE for the topological states of a single kink profile. The results are presented as function of An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is 1556-276X-6-452-i12.gif (panels (a,c)) and the external magnetic field (panels (b,d)). The topological states are indicated by (1), (2) in Figure 2(a). The An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is 1556-276X-6-452-i7.gif property of the topological levels leads to a symmetric behavior around An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is 1556-276X-6-452-i9.gif for the oscillator strength. The results in Figure 4(a) show a zero value for the oscillator strength at An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is 1556-276X-6-452-i9.gif. As shown in the inset of Figure 4(a) the wavespinors for the first state An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is 1556-276X-6-452-i13.gif and the second one An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is 1556-276X-6-452-i14.gif at An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is 1556-276X-6-452-i9.gif are related as An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is 1556-276X-6-452-i15.gif and An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is 1556-276X-6-452-i16.gif which results | <ψ| x |ψ > |2 = 0 in Eq. (5). Panel 4(b) presents the oscillator strength as function of magnetic field for several values of An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is 1556-276X-6-452-i12.gif. The presence of an external magnetic field decreases the oscillator strength at large momentum whereas the B0 = 0 result exhibits an increase in the oscillator strength (blue dashed curve in (a)). The reason is that a large magnetic field together with a large momentum weakly affects the topological states of the single kink profile (see Figure 3(b)). Note that the oscillator strength vs magnetic field is zero for An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is 1556-276X-6-452-i9.gif (dotted line in panel (b)).

Figure 4
(Color online) Oscillator strength for the transition between the topological states of the single kink profile (The states are labeled by (1), (2) in Fig. 2) and the corresponding transition energies ΔE as function of (a,c) the y-component of ...

Next we considered a potential profile with a kink-antikink. Figure Figure55 shows the spectrum of localized states for B0 = 0 (a) and B0 = 3 T (b). The results show a shift of the four mid-gap energy branches as the magnetic field increases. In addition, the continuum of free states at zero magnetic field is replaced by a set of Landau levels for ε >ub. The spinor components and probability densities associated with the points indicated by arrows in Figure 5(a) and Figure 5(b) are shown in Figure Figure6.6. In Figure 6(a) the wavefunction shows the overlap between states localized in both the kink and antikink, for zero magnetic field. With increasing wavevector, the states become strongly localized in either the kink (b) or antikink (c). Panels (d) to (f) show the wavefunctions for non-zero magnetic field. The states at An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is 1556-276X-6-452-i9.gif, (panel (d)) show a shift of the probability density towards the central region of the potential. That is caused by the additional confinement brought about by the magnetic field. However, for a larger value of the wavevector, the wavefunctions are only weakly affected by the field, due to the strong localization of the states.

Figure 5
Energy levels of a kink-antikink profile on bilayer graphene with ub = 0.25 and δ = 1 for (a) B0 = 0 T and (b) B0 = 3 T. The kinks are located at x' = ±15 (or x ≈ ± 25 nm in real units).
Figure 6
Wave spinors, [var phi]a, [var phi]b and the corresponding probability density for the points in the energy spectrum which are indicated in Fig. 5 by arrows.

Figure Figure77 displays the energy levels of a kink-antikink potential as function of an external magnetic field for (a) An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is 1556-276X-6-452-i9.gif and (b) An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is 1556-276X-6-452-i28.gif. For the kink-antikink case, the overlap between the states associated with each confinement region allows the formation of Landau orbits. Therefore, in contrast to the single kink profile, the proximity of an antikink induces a strong dependence of the states on the external field.

Figure 7
Energy levels of a kink-antikink profile in bilayer graphene as function of external magnetic field B0 for (a) An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is 1556-276X-6-452-i29.gifand (b) An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is 1556-276X-6-452-i32.gif. The other parameters are the same as Fig. 5.

The localization of the states is reflected in the position dependence of the current. The current in the y-direction is obtained using

equation image
(6)

where An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is 1556-276X-6-452-i18.gif. we rewrite Eq. (6) in the following form

equation image
(7)

The x-component of the current vanishes for the confined states. It should be noticed that a non-zero current can be found for E = 0, as can be deduced from the dispersion relations. Figure Figure88 shows plots of the y-component of the current density as function of x for the states labelled (1) to (6) in panels (a) and (b) of Figure Figure7.7. For An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is 1556-276X-6-452-i9.gif the results presented in Figure 8(a) show a persistent current carried by each kink region, irrespective of the direction of B0, as exemplified by the states (1) and (2) which correspond to opposite directions of magnetic field. For non-zero wave vectors, however, as shown in panels (b) and (c), the current is strongly localized around either potential kink. In Figure 8(b), the density current curve shows an additional peak caused by a stronger magnetic field (B0 ≈ 10 T ).

Figure 8
y component of the Persistent current in bilayer graphene as function of x direction for the values of magnetic field where E = EF which are indicated by (1), (2), ... in Fig. 7(a),(b).

Figure Figure99 displays the oscillator strength and the corresponding transition energy for the mid-gap levels of the kink-antikink potentials as function of (a,c) An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is 1556-276X-6-452-i12.gif and (b,d) external magnetic field B0 (the energy branches are labeled by (1), (2), (3) in Figure 5(a)). The wavefunction for the energies corresponding to the kink states (1), (3) are localized around x' = d whereas the antikink energy levels confine the carriers around x = - d and consequently the oscillator strength by the transition between the kink and the antikink states (e.g. 1 → 2) is zero in the absence or either presence of magnetic field (blue solid curves in panels (a,b)). The inset of panel (a) indicates that the wavespinors satisfy the An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is 1556-276X-6-452-i20.gif and An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is 1556-276X-6-452-i21.gif relations at An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is 1556-276X-6-452-i9.gif and B0 = 0 which leads to a zero oscillator strength for the 1 → 3 transition. In contrast to the single kink profile the shift in the intragap energies of the kink-antikink potential leads to a non-zero value for the oscillator strength at An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is 1556-276X-6-452-i9.gif (red solid curve in (a)). The oscillator strength as function of the external magnetic field is shown in panel (b) for An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is 1556-276X-6-452-i22.gif. The inset in panel (b) shows the wavefunction of the states (1) and (3) at B0 ≈ 1.6 T where, the same relations as for the single kink potential between the wavespinors (An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is 1556-276X-6-452-i23.gif and An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is 1556-276X-6-452-i24.gif) leads to a zero value for the oscillator strength.

Figure 9
(Color online) (a,b) Oscillator strength and (c,d) the corresponding transition energies ΔE for the 1 → 2 (blue curves) and 1 → 3 (red curves) transitions between the intragap energy states of the kink-antink profile as function ...

Conclusions

We obtained the spectrum of electronic bound states that are localized at potential kinks in bilayer graphene, which can be created by antisymmetric gate potentials. For a single potential kink, the bound states are only weakly influenced by an external magnetic field, due to their one-dimensional character, caused by the strong confinement along the direction of the potential kink interface. For a kink-antikink pair, however, the numerical results show a significant shift of the carrier dispersion, which arises due to the coupling of the states localized at either potential interface. Therefore, such configurable kink potentials in bilayer graphene permits the tailoring of the low-dimensional carrier dynamics as well as its magnetic field response by means of gate voltages.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Authors' contributions

MZ carried out the numerical results JMP Jr and FMP were involved in the conception of the study and performed the sequence alignment and drafted the manuscript. GAF contributed in analysis of the numerical results. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the Brazilian agency CNPq (Pronex), the Flemish Science Foundation (FWO-Vl), the Belgian Science Policy (IAP), and the bilateral projects between Flanders and Brazil and FWO-CNPq.

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