Major advancement in producing new family members of semiconductor materials

Oct 4, 2021 05:06 PM ET
  • MIT engineers report producing the very first high-grade thin films of a new household of semiconductor materials. The task, which lead scientist Rafael Jaramillo describes as his "white whale" because of his fixation in pursuing it over the years, has the potential to effect several areas of technology if background repeats itself. The capability to develop top notch films of other families of semiconductors brought about computers, solar cells, night-vision video cameras, and extra.
Major advancement in producing new family members of semiconductor materials
Image: Felice Frankel

When introducing a new material "the most important clinical innovations are enabled only when we have accessibility to the highest-quality materials readily available," states Jaramillo, the Thomas Lord Associate Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT. "Examining materials of poor quality usually causes incorrect downsides with respect to their scientific interest and technological possibility."

The new family members of semiconductors, called chalcogenide perovskites, could have applications in solar cells and lighting, Jaramillo says. He notes, however, that "the background of semiconductor study shows that new families of semiconductors are typically enabling in ways that are not predictable."

Jaramillo is delighted regarding the new materials' possible since they are ultrastable and constructed from economical, nontoxic elements. The thin films his group developed are made up of barium, zirconium, and sulfur in a details crystal structure, "the prototypical chalcogenide perovskite," Jaramillo says. "You can make variants by altering the structure. So it is without a doubt a household of materials, not just a one-off."

The work is scheduled to be published in the journal Advanced Useful Materials the initial week of November 2021. It is already readily available online. Jaramillo's coauthors are Ida Sadeghi, a postdoctoral associate in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering (DMSE) and very first writer of the paper; Kevin Ye, Michael Xu, and Yifei Li, all DMSE graduate students; and James M. LeBeau, the John Chipman Associate Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT.

A little history

Chalcogenide perovskites were made as early as the 1950s, by French chemists. Comparable work was duplicated in the 80s and early 90s, yet "the idea that these materials would be useful semiconductors didn't come along until the very early 2010s," Jaramillo states. That's when Jaramillo and a couple of others-- including Jayakanth Ravichandran and Joseph Bennett, all postdocs at the time-- independently determined their possibility. Today, Ravichandran and Bennett are professors at the University of Southern California and the University of Maryland Baltimore Region, specifically; Jaramillo counts both as pals. Ravichandran, who Jaramillo fulfilled when both were postdocs at Harvard, has also sought the goal of developing high-quality chalcogenide perovskite films, albeit utilizing a various strategy. Ravichandran likewise recently did well; a paper reporting his team's work is reported in the journal Chemistry of Materials.

Just how they did it

Jaramillo and colleagues used a technique called molecular beam of light epitaxy (MBE) to grow their premium films. The strategy allows atomic-level control over crystal development, however "it's exceptionally tough to do and there's no guarantee of success [with a brand-new material]," Jaramillo says. Nevertheless, "the background of semiconductor technology shows the worth of creating MBE. That's why it's worthwhile to attempt."

As its name implies, MBE essentially points light beams of molecules at a specific setup of atoms on a surface (" taxy," as in epitaxy, means plan, or positioning). That arrangement of atoms provides a layout for the beamed molecules to grow on. "That's why epitaxial growth provides you the first-rate films. The materials know exactly how to grow," Jaramillo claims.

The tough work was additional compounded by one more aspect: "the chemicals required to make chalcogenides are nasty. They have an odor, and they can fumble devices," Jaramillo states. MBE takes place in a vacuum chamber, and Jaramillo recalls the reluctance of individuals to enable his team accessibility to their chambers.

Claims Hideo Hosono, a professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology that was not involved in the work, "the slim films [produced by Jaramillo et al.] reveal a mirror-smooth image as a result of an atomically flat surface area and outstanding high quality. We might anticipate the awareness of gadget fabrication such as solar cells and green LEDs as the next publications."

What's next?

" It's practically an inquiry of what isn't next," Jaramillo claims. "Since we can make these high-grade materials, there's virtually no measurement we could do that wouldn't be interesting to a wide area of people." In the meantime, his group is concentrating on 2 areas: exploring essential concerns to acquire a better understanding of the materials, and integrating them into solar cells. In one of his postdoctoral visits prior to signing up with the MIT professors, Jaramillo worked with solar cells, so "I'll have the ability to take advantage of a great deal of what I did after that."

Chalcogenide perovskites are not the single focus of Jaramillo's lab at MIT. "But this is absolutely the project we're proudest of because it's taken the most effort and the most delayed satisfaction."

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