Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Two-state dynamics recorded in glassy silicon

Date:
June 14, 2011
Source:
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Summary:
Using high-resolution imaging technology, researchers have answered a question that had confounded semiconductor researchers: Is amorphous silicon a glass? The answer? Yes -- until hydrogen is added. For the first time, researchers directly observed two-state dynamics in a-Si, which disappears after hydrogenation.

An amorphous silicon surface. Lumps are clusters of about five atoms of silicon. The “hopping” motion of the lumps shows that a-Si is a glass.
Credit: Martin Gruebele

Using high-resolution imaging technology, University of Illinois researchers have answered a question that had confounded semiconductor researchers: Is amorphous silicon a glass? The answer? Yes -- until hydrogen is added.

Led by chemistry professor Martin Gruebele, the group published its results in the journal Physical Review Letters.

Amorphous silicon (a-Si) is a semiconductor popular for many device applications because it is inexpensive and can be created in a flexible thin film, unlike the rigid, brittle crystalline form of silicon. But the material has its own unusual qualities: It seems to have some characteristics of glass, but cannot be made the way other glasses are.

Most glasses are made by rapidly cooling a melted material so that it hardens in a random structure. But cooling liquid silicon simply results in an orderly crystal structure. Several methods exist for producing a-Si from crystalline silicon, including bombarding a crystal surface so that atoms fly off and deposit on another surface in a random position.

To settle the debate on the nature of a-Si, Gruebele's group, collaborating with electrical and computer engineering professor Joseph Lyding's group at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, used a scanning tunneling microscope to take sub nanometer-resolution images of a-Si surfaces, stringing them together to make a time-lapse video.

The video shows a lumpy, irregular surface; each lump is a cluster about five silicon atoms in diameter. Suddenly, between frames, one bump seems to jump to an adjoining space. Soon, another lump nearby shifts neatly to the right. Although few of the clusters move, the action is obvious.

Such cluster "hopping" between two positions is known as two-state dynamics, a signature property of glass. In a glass, the atoms or molecules are randomly positioned or oriented, much the way they are in a liquid or gas. But while atoms have much more freedom of motion to diffuse through a liquid or gas, in a glass the molecules or atom clusters are stuck most of the time in the solid. Instead, a cluster usually has only two adjoining places that it can ferry between.

"This is the first time that this type of two-state hopping has been imaged in a-Si," Gruebele said. "It's been predicted by theory and people have inferred it indirectly from other measurements, but this is the first time we're been able to visualize it."

The group's observations of two-state dynamics show that pure a-Si is indeed a glass, in spite of its unorthodox manufacturing method. However, a-Si is rarely used in its pure form; hydrogen is added to make it more stable and improve performance.

Researchers have long assumed that hydrogenation has little to no effect on the random structure of a-Si, but the group's observations show that this assumption is not quite correct. In fact, adding hydrogen robs a-Si of its two-state dynamics and its categorization as a glass. Furthermore, the surface is riddled with signs of crystallization: larger clusters, cracks and highly structured patches.

Such micro-crystalline structure has great implications for the properties of a-Si and how they are studied and applied. Since most research has been conducted on hydrogenated a-Si, Gruebele sees a great opportunity to delve into the largely unknown characteristics of the glassy state.

"In some ways, I think we actually know less about the properties of glassy silicon than we think we do, because a lot of what's been investigated of what people call amorphous or glassy silicon isn't really completely amorphous," Gruebele said. "We really need to revisit what the properties of a-Si are. There could yet be surprises in the way it functions and the kind of things that we might be able to do with it."

Next, the group hopes to conduct temperature-depended studies to further establish the activation barriers, or the energy "humps" that the clusters must overcome to move between positions.

The National Science Foundation supported this work.

Video.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. S. Ashtekar, G. Scott, J. Lyding, M. Gruebele. Direct Imaging of Two-State Dynamics on the Amorphous Silicon Surface. Physical Review Letters, 2011; 106 (23) DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.106.235501

Cite This Page:

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Two-state dynamics recorded in glassy silicon." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 June 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110614141503.htm>.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (2011, June 14). Two-state dynamics recorded in glassy silicon. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110614141503.htm
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Two-state dynamics recorded in glassy silicon." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110614141503.htm (accessed July 31, 2014).

Share This




More Matter & Energy News

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Britain Testing Driverless Cars on Roadways

Britain Testing Driverless Cars on Roadways

AP (July 30, 2014) British officials said on Wednesday that driverless cars will be tested on roads in as many as three cities in a trial program set to begin in January. Officials said the tests will last up to three years. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Amid Drought, UCLA Sees Only Water

Amid Drought, UCLA Sees Only Water

AP (July 30, 2014) A ruptured 93-year-old water main left the UCLA campus awash in 8 million gallons of water in the middle of California's worst drought in decades. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Smartphone Powered Paper Plane Debuts at Airshow

Smartphone Powered Paper Plane Debuts at Airshow

AP (July 30, 2014) Smartphone powered paper airplane that was popular on crowdfunding website KickStarter makes its debut at Wisconsin airshow (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
U.K. To Allow Driverless Cars On Public Roads

U.K. To Allow Driverless Cars On Public Roads

Newsy (July 30, 2014) Driverless cars could soon become a staple on U.K. city streets, as they're set to be introduced to a few cities in 2015. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

    Technology News



    Save/Print:
    Share:

    Free Subscriptions


    Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

    Get Social & Mobile


    Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

    Have Feedback?


    Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
    Mobile: iPhone Android Web
    Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
    Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
    Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins