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Subband occupation in semiconductor-superconductor nanowires

TitleSubband occupation in semiconductor-superconductor nanowires
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsB. D. Woods, S. Das Sarma, and T. D. Stanescu
JournalPhys. Rev. B
Date PublishedJAN 7
Type of ArticleArticle

Subband occupancy (i.e., the number of occupied confinement-induced subbands of the semiconductor wire) is a key physical parameter determining the topological properties of superconductor-semiconductor hybrid systems investigated in the context of the search for non-Abelian Majorana zero modes. We theoretically study the subband occupation of semiconductor nanowire devices as a function of the applied gate potential, the semiconductor-superconductor (SM-SC) work function difference, and the surface charge density by solving self-consistently the Schrodinger-Poisson equations for the conduction electrons of the semiconductor nanowire. Realistic surface charge densities, which are responsible for band bending, are shown to significantly increase the number of occupied subbands, making it difficult or impossible to reach a regime where only a few subbands are occupied. We also show that the energy separation between subbands is significantly reduced in the regime of many occupied subbands, with highly detrimental consequences for the realization and observation of robust Majorana zero modes. As a consequence, the requirements for the realization of robust topological superconductivity and Majorana zero modes should include a low value of the chemical potential, consistent with the occupation of only a few subbands. Finally, we show that the local density of states on the exposed nanowire facets provides a powerful tool for identifying a regime with many occupied subbands and is capable of providing additional critical information regarding the feasibility of Majorana physics in semiconductor-superconductor devices. In our work we address both InAs/Al and InSb/Al superconductor-nanowire hybrid systems of current experimental interest.