Bismuth has been the key element in the discovery and development of topological insulator materials. Previous theoretical studies indicated that Bi is topologically trivial and it can transform into the topological phase by alloying with Sb. However, recent high-resolution angle-resolved photoemission spectroscopy (ARPES) measurements strongly suggested a topological band structure in pure Bi, conflicting with the theoretical results. To address this issue, we studied the band structure of Bi and Sb films by ARPES and first-principles calculations. The quantum confinement effectively enlarges the energy gap in the band structure of Bi films and enables a direct visualization of the
topological invariant of Bi. We find that Bi quantum films in topologically trivial and nontrivial phases respond differently to surface perturbations. This way, we establish experimental criteria for detecting the band topology of Bi by spectroscopic methods.
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