Nanoscale electron transport at the surface of a topological insulator
The use of three-dimensional topological insulators for disruptive technologies critically depends on the dissipationless transport of electrons at the surface, because of the suppression of backscattering at defects. However, in real devices, defects are unavoidable and scattering at angles other than 180° is allowed for such materials. Until now, this has been studied indirectly by bulk measurements and by the analysis of the local density of states in close vicinity to defect sites. Here, we directly measure the nanoscale voltage drop caused by the scattering at step edges, which occurs if a lateral current flows along a three-dimensional topological insulator. The experiments were performed using scanning tunnelling potentiometry for thin Bi2Se3 films. So far, the observed voltage drops are small because of large contributions of the bulk to the electronic transport. However, or the use of ideal topological insulating thin films in devices, these contributions would play a significant role.