Decoupling the electronic gap from the spin Chern number in disordered higher-order topological insulators

Alexander C. Tyner, Cormac Grindall, J. H. Pixley
Condensed Matter, Disordered Systems and Neural Networks, Disordered Systems and Neural Networks (cond-mat.dis-nn), Mesoscale and Nanoscale Physics (cond-mat.mes-hall), Strongly Correlated Electrons (cond-mat.str-el)
2024-03-06 00:00:00
In two-dimensional topological insulators, a disorder induced topological phase transition is typically identified with an Anderson localization transition at the Fermi energy. However, in higher-order, spin-resolved topological insulators it is the spectral gap of the spin-spectrum, in addition to the bulk mobility gap, which protects the non-trivial topology of the ground state. In this work, we show that these two gaps, the bulk electronic and spin gap, evolve distinctly upon introduction of disorder. This decoupling leads to a unique situation in which an Anderson localization transition occurs below the Fermi energy at the topological transition. Furthermore, in the clean limit the bulk-boundary correspondence of such higher-order insulators is dictated by crystalline protected topology, coexisting with the spin-resolved topology. By removing the crystalline symmetry, disorder allows for isolated study of the bulk-boundary correspondence of spin-resolved topology for which we demonstrate the absence of protected edge and corner modes in the Hamiltonian and yet the edge modes in the eigenstates of the projected spin operator survive. Our work shows that a non-zero spin-Chern number, in the absence of a non-trivial $\mathbb{Z}_{2}$ index, does not dictate the existence of protected edge modes, resolving a fundamental question posed in 2009.
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