We discuss the results of recent theoretical studies of the spin structure of free carriers in semiconductor structures. In addition to spin-orbit splitting of the spectrum of bulk materials, in 2D systems, the spin degeneracy of the levels is lifted in presence of lateral wave vector. The linear spin splitting of the energy levels is important for spin relaxation in quantum well structures because the dominant mechanism of spin relaxation in 2D structures relies on the connection between spin and electron momentum. Also, it is important for description of states in semiconductor-based 2D topological insulators because the structure of the levels strongly depends on the spin-orbit interaction.
Combining the envelope function theory and atomistic tight-binding approach, we calculate spin-orbit splitting constants for realistic quantum wells, study the relative importance of the interface and the bulk contributions to the spin splitting; show that the strain due to lattice mismatch is important in both conventional GaAs/AlGaAs and InGaAs/GaAs structures; and describe the fine structure of Dirac states in the HgTe/CdTe quantum wells of critical and close-to-critical thicknesses.
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