Nontrivial gapless electronic states at the stacking faults of weak topological insulators
Lattice defects such as stacking faults may obscure electronic topological features of real materials. In fact, defects are a source of disorder that can enhance the density of states and conductivity of the bulk of the system and they break crystal symmetries that can protect the topological states. On the other hand, in recent years, it has been shown that lattice defects can act as a source of nontrivial topology. Motivated by recent experiments on three-dimensional (3D) topological systems such as Bi2TeI and Bi14Rh3I9, we examine the effect of stacking faults on the electronic properties of weak topological insulators (WTIs). Working with a simple model consisting of a 3D WTI formed by weakly-coupled two-dimensional (2D) topological layers separated by trivial spacers, we find that 2D stacking faults can carry their own, topologically nontrivial gapless states. Depending on the WTI properties, as well as the way in which the stacking fault is realized, the latter can form a topologically protected 2D semimetal, but also a 2D topological insulator, which is embedded in the higher-dimensional WTI bulk. This suggests the possibility of using stacking faults in real materials as a source of topologically nontrivial, symmetry-protected conducting states.