Direct visualization of electronic transport in a quantum anomalous Hall insulator
A quantum anomalous Hall (QAH) insulator is characterized by quantized Hall and vanishing longitudinal resistances at zero magnetic field that are protected against local perturbations and independent of sample details. This insensitivity makes the microscopic details of the local current distribution inaccessible to global transport measurements. Accordingly, the current distributions that give rise to transport quantization are unknown. Here we use magnetic imaging to directly visualize the transport current in the QAH regime. As we tune through the QAH plateau by electrostatic gating, we clearly identify a regime in which the sample transports current primarily in the bulk rather than along the edges. Furthermore, we image the local response of equilibrium magnetization to electrostatic gating. Combined, these measurements suggest that the current flows through incompressible regions whose spatial structure can change throughout the QAH regime. Identification of the appropriate microscopic picture of electronic transport in QAH insulators and other topologically non-trivial states of matter is a crucial step towards realizing their potential in next-generation quantum devices.