Weak localization and antilocalization in topological materials with impurity spin-orbit interactions

Weizhe Edward Liu, Ewelina M. Hankiewicz, Dimitrie Culcer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Topological materials have attracted considerable experimental and theoretical attention. They exhibit strong spin-orbit coupling both in the band structure (intrinsic) and in the impurity potentials (extrinsic), although the latter is often neglected. In this work, we discuss weak localization and antilocalization of massless Dirac fermions in topological insulators and massive Dirac fermions inWeyl semimetal thin films, taking into account both intrinsic and extrinsic spin-orbit interactions. The physics is governed by the complex interplay of the chiral spin texture, quasiparticle mass, and scalar and spin-orbit scattering. We demonstrate that terms linear in the extrinsic spin-orbit scattering are generally present in the Bloch and momentum relaxation times in all topological materials, and the correction to the diffusion constant is linear in the strength of the extrinsic spin-orbit. In topological insulators, which have zero quasiparticle mass, the terms linear in the impurity spin-orbit coupling lead to an observable density dependence in the weak antilocalization correction. They produce substantial qualitative modifications to the magnetoconductivity, differing greatly from the conventional Hikami-Larkin-Nagaoka formula traditionally used in experimental fits, which predicts a crossover from weak localization to antilocalization as a function of the extrinsic spin-orbit strength. In contrast, our analysis reveals that topological insulators always exhibit weak antilocalization. In Weyl semimetal thin films having intermediate to large values of the quasiparticle mass, we show that extrinsic spin-orbit scattering strongly affects the boundary of the weak localization to antilocalization transition. We produce a complete phase diagram for this transition as a function of the mass and spin-orbit scattering strength. Throughout the paper, we discuss implications for experimental work, and, at the end, we provide a brief comparison with transition metal dichalcogenides.

Original languageEnglish
Article number807
Number of pages21
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Topological insulator
  • Weak antilocalization
  • Weyl semimetal

Cite this