Nav: Home

Breakthrough material could lead to cheaper, more widespread solar panels and electronics

July 16, 2019

LAWRENCE -- Imagine printing electronic devices using a simple inkjet printer -- or even painting a solar panel onto the wall of a building.

Such technology would slash the cost of manufacturing electronic devices and enable new ways to integrate them into our everyday lives. Over the last two decades, a type of material called organic semiconductors, made out of molecules or polymers, has been developed for such purposes. But some properties of these materials pose a major hurdle that limits their widespread use.

"In these materials, an electron is usually bound to its counterpart, a missing electron known as 'hole,' and can't move freely," said Wai-Lun Chan, associate professor of physics & astronomy at the University of Kansas. "So-called 'free electrons,' which wander freely in the material and conduct electricity, are rare and can't be generated readily by light absorption. This impedes the use of these organic materials in applications like solar panels because panels built with these materials often have poor performance."

Because of this problem, Chan said "freeing the electrons" has been a focus in developing organic semiconductors for solar cells, light sensors and many other optoelectronic applications.

Now, two physics research groups at KU, led by Chan and Hui Zhao, professor of physics & astronomy, have effectively generated free electrons from organic semiconductors when combined with a single atomic layer of molybdenum disulfide (MoS2), a recently discovered two-dimensional (2D) semiconductor.

The introduced 2D layer allows the electrons to escape from "holes" and move freely. The findings have just been published in the Journal of American Chemical Society, a leading journal in chemistry and interfacing areas of science.

Over the last few years, many researchers have been investigating how free charges can be generated effectively from hybrid organic-2D interfaces.

"One of the prevailing assumptions is free electrons can be generated from the interface as long as electrons can be transferred from one material to another in a relatively short period of time -- less than one-trillionth of a second," Chan said. "However, my graduate students Tika Kafle and Bhupal Kattel and I have found the presence of the ultrafast electron transfer in itself is not sufficient to guarantee the generation of free electrons from the light absorption. That's because the 'holes' can prevent the electrons from moving away from the interface. Whether the electron can be free from this binding force depends on the local energy landscape near the interface."

Chan said the energy landscape of the electrons could be seen as a topographic map of a mountain.

"A hiker chooses his path based on the height contour map," he said. "Similarly, the motion of the electron at the interface between the two materials is controlled by the electron energy landscape near the interface."

Chan and Zhao's findings will help develop general principles of how to design the "landscape" to free the electrons in such hybrid materials.

The discovery was made by combining two highly complementary experimental tools based on ultrafast lasers, time-resolved photoemission spectroscopy in Chan's lab and transient optical absorption in Zhao's lab. Both experimental setups are located in the basement of the Integrated Science Building.

In the time-resolved photoemission spectroscopy experiment, Kafle used an ultrashort laser pulse that only exists for 10-quadrillionths (10-14) of a second to trigger the motion of electrons. The advantage of using such a short pulse is the researcher knows precisely the starting time of the electron's journey. Kafle then used another ultrashort laser pulse to hit the sample again at an accurately controlled time relative to the first pulse. This second pulse is energetic enough to kick out these electrons from the sample. By measuring the energy of these electrons (now in a vacuum) and using the principle of energy conservation, the researchers were able to figure out the energy of electrons before they were kicked out and thus reveal the journey of these electrons since they were hit by the first pulse. This technique resolved the energy of the excited electrons as it moves across the interface after the light absorption. Because only electrons near the front surface of the sample can be released by the second pulse, the position of the electron relative to the interface is also revealed with atomic precision.

In the transient optical absorption measurements, Peng Yao (a visiting student) and KU graduate Peymon Zereshki, both supervised by Zhao, also used a two-pulse technique, with the first pulse initiating the electron motion in the same way. However, in their measurements, the second pulse does the trick of monitoring electrons by detecting the fraction of the second pulse that is reflected from the sample, instead of kicking out the electrons.

"Because light can penetrate a longer distance, the measurement can probe electrons in the entire depth of the sample and therefore provide complementary information to the first techniques that are more 'surface sensitive,'" Zhao said. "These detailed measurements enabled us to reconstruct the trajectory of the electron and determine conditions that enable the effective generation of free electrons."
-end-
The collaborative work from the two research teams will provide a blueprint on how to design interfaces that can turn light into electrical current with high efficiency. Both teams are funded by the National Science Foundation through a CAREER Award (Chan) and a Condensed Matter Physics Award (Zhao).

University of Kansas

Related Electrons Articles:

Plasma electrons can be used to produce metallic films
Computers, mobile phones and all other electronic devices contain thousands of transistors, linked together by thin films of metal.
Flatter graphene, faster electrons
Scientists from the Swiss Nanoscience Institute and the Department of Physics at the University of Basel developed a technique to flatten corrugations in graphene layers.
Researchers develop one-way street for electrons
The work has shown that these electron ratchets create geometric diodes that operate at room temperature and may unlock unprecedented abilities in the illusive terahertz regime.
Photons and electrons one on one
The dynamics of electrons changes ever so slightly on each interaction with a photon.
Using light to put a twist on electrons
Method with polarized light can create and measure nonsymmetrical states in a layered material.
What if we could teach photons to behave like electrons?
The researchers tricked photons - which are intrinsically non-magnetic - into behaving like charged electrons.
Electrons in rapid motion
Researchers observe quantum interferences in real-time using a new extreme ultra-violet light spectroscopy technique.
Taming electrons with bacteria parts
In a new study, scientists at the MSU-DOE Plant Research Laboratory report a new synthetic system that could guide electron transfer over long distances.
Hot electrons harvested without tricks
Semiconductors convert energy from photons into an electron current. However, some photons carry too much energy for the material to absorb.
Cooling nanotube resonators with electrons
In a study in Nature Physics, ICFO researchers report on a technique that uses electron transport to cool a nanomechanical resonator near the quantum regime.
More Electrons News and Electrons Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Making Amends
What makes a true apology? What does it mean to make amends for past mistakes? This hour, TED speakers explore how repairing the wrongs of the past is the first step toward healing for the future. Guests include historian and preservationist Brent Leggs, law professor Martha Minow, librarian Dawn Wacek, and playwright V (formerly Eve Ensler).
Now Playing: Science for the People

#566 Is Your Gut Leaking?
This week we're busting the human gut wide open with Dr. Alessio Fasano from the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital. Join host Anika Hazra for our discussion separating fact from fiction on the controversial topic of leaky gut syndrome. We cover everything from what causes a leaky gut to interpreting the results of a gut microbiome test! Related links: Center for Celiac Research and Treatment website and their YouTube channel
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Flag and the Fury
How do you actually make change in the world? For 126 years, Mississippi has had the Confederate battle flag on their state flag, and they were the last state in the nation where that emblem remained "officially" flying.  A few days ago, that flag came down. A few days before that, it coming down would have seemed impossible. We dive into the story behind this de-flagging: a journey involving a clash of histories, designs, families, and even cheerleading. This show is a collaboration with OSM Audio. Kiese Laymon's memoir Heavy is here. And the Hospitality Flag webpage is here.