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Posted: Apr 03, 2013
Nanotechnology transforms molecular beams into functional nano-devices with controlled atomic architectures
(Nanowerk News) Bottom-up synthesis of nanowires through metal-catalyzed vapor phase epitaxy is a very attractive process to generate high-quality nanowires thus providing an additional degree of freedom in design of innovative devices that extend beyond what is achievable with the current technologies. In this nano-fabrication process, nanowires grow through the condensation of atoms released from a molecular vapor (called precursors) at the surface of metallic nano-droplets. Gold is broadly used to form these nano-droplets. This self-assembly of nanowires takes place spontaneously at optimal temperature and vapor pressure and can be applied to synthesize any type of semiconductor nanowires.
However, to functionalize these nanomaterials a precise introduction of impurities is central to tune their electronic and optical properties. For instance, the introduction of group III and V impurities in a silicon lattice is a crucial step for optimal design and performance of silicon nanowire technologies. The accurate control of this doping process remains an outstanding challenge that is increasingly complex as a result of the relentless drive toward device miniaturization and the emergence of novel nanoscale device architectures.
In a recent development, a team of scientists from Polytechnique Montréal (Canada), Northwestern University (USA), and Max Planck Institute of Microstructure Physics (Germany) led by Professor Oussama Moutanabbir has made a fascinating discovery of a novel process to precisely functionalize nanowires. By using aluminum as a catalyst instead of the canonical gold, the team demonstrated that the growth of nanowires triggers a self-doping process involving the injection of aluminum atoms thus providing an efficient route to dope nanowires without the need of post-growth processing typically used in semiconductor industry. Besides the technological implications, this self-doping implies atomic scale processes that are crucial for the fundamental understanding of the catalytic assembly of nanowires.
The scientists investigated this phenomenon at the atomistic-level using the emerging technique of highly focused ultraviolet laser-assisted atom-probe tomography to achieve three-dimensional atom-by-atom maps of individual nanowires. A new predictive theory of impurity injections was also developed to describe this self-doping phenomenon, which provides myriad opportunities to create entirely new class of nanoscale devices by precisely tailoring shape and composition of nanowires.