Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Prototype shows how tiny photodetectors can double their efficiency

10.10.2017

UC Riverside research invokes quantum mechanical processes that occur when two atomically thin materials are stacked together

Physicists at the University of California, Riverside have developed a photodetector - a device that senses light - by combining two distinct inorganic materials and producing quantum mechanical processes that could revolutionize the way solar energy is collected.


This image shows an energy diagram of the WSe2-MoSe2 device. When a photon (1) strikes the WSe2 layer, it knocks loose an electron (2), freeing it to conduct through the WSe2 (3). At the junction between the two materials, the electron drops down into MoSe2 (4). The energy given off in the drop catapults a second electron from the WSe2 (5) into the MoSe2 (6), where both electrons are free to move and generate electricity.

Credit: University Communications, UC Riverside


UC Riverside's Nathaniel Gabor (left) is seen here in his Quantum Materials Optoelectronics lab with his graduate students Fatemeh Barati (center) and Max Grossnickle.

Credit: I. Pittalwala, UC Riverside

Photodetectors are almost ubiquitous, found in cameras, cell phones, remote controls, solar cells, and even the panels of space shuttles. Measuring just microns across, these tiny devices convert light into electrons, whose subsequent movement generates an electronic signal. Increasing the efficiency of light-to-electricity conversion has been one of the primary aims in photodetector construction since their invention.

Lab researchers stacked two atomic layers of tungsten diselenide (WSe2) on a single atomic layer of molybdenum diselenide (MoSe2). Such stacking results in properties vastly different from those of the parent layers, allowing for customized electronic engineering at the tiniest possible scale.

Video.

Within atoms, electrons live in states that determine their energy level. When electrons move from one state to another, they either acquire or lose energy. Above a certain energy level, electrons can move freely. An electron moving into a lower energy state can transfer enough energy to knock loose another electron.

UC Riverside physicists observed that when a photon strikes the WSe2 layer, it knocks loose an electron, freeing it to conduct through the WSe2. At the junction between WSe2 and MoSe2, the electron drops down into MoSe2. The energy given off then catapults a second electron from the WSe2 into the MoSe2, where both electrons become free to move and generate electricity.

"We are seeing a new phenomenon occurring," said Nathaniel M. Gabor, an assistant professor of physics, who led the research team. "Normally, when an electron jumps between energy states, it wastes energy. In our experiment, the waste energy instead creates another electron, doubling its efficiency. Understanding such processes, together with improved designs that push beyond the theoretical efficiency limits, will have a broad significance with regard to designing new ultra-efficient photovoltaic devices."

Study results appear today in Nature Nanotechnology.

"The electron in WSe2 that is initially energized by the photon has an energy that is low with respect to WSe2," said Fatemeh Barati, a graduate student in Gabor's Quantum Materials Optoelectronics lab and the co-first author of the research paper. "With the application of a small electric field, it transfers to MoSe2, where its energy, with respect to this new material, is high. Meaning, it can now lose energy. This energy is dissipated as kinetic energy that dislodges the additional electron from WSe2."

In existing solar panels models, one photon can at most generate one electron. In the prototype the researchers developed, one photon can generate two electrons or more through a process called electron multiplication.

The researchers explained that in ultrasmall materials, electrons behave like waves. Though it is unintuitive at large scales, the process of generating two electrons from one photon is perfectly allowable at extremely small length scales. When a material, such as WSe2 or MoSe2, gets thinned down to dimensions nearing the electron's wavelength, the material's properties begin to change in inexplicable, unpredictable, and mysterious ways.

"It's like a wave stuck between walls closing in," Gabor said. "Quantum mechanically, this changes all the scales. The combination of two different ultra small materials gives rise to an entirely new multiplication process. Two plus two equals five."

"Ideally, in a solar cell we would want light coming in to turn into several electrons," said Max Grossnickle, also a graduate student in Gabor's lab and the research paper's co-first author. "Our paper shows that this is possible."

Barati noted that more electrons could be generated also by increasing the temperature of the device.

"We saw a doubling of electrons in our device at 340 degrees Kelvin (150 F), which is slightly above room temperature," she said. "Few materials show this phenomenon around room temperature. As we increase this temperature, we should see more than a doubling of electrons."

Electron multiplication in conventional photocell devices typically requires applied voltages of 10-100 volts. To observe the doubling of electrons, the researchers used only 1.2 volts, the typical voltage supplied by an AA battery.

"Such low voltage operation, and therefore low power consumption, may herald a revolutionary direction in photodetector and solar cell material design," Grossnickle said.

He explained that the efficiency of a photovoltaic device is governed by a simple competition: light energy is either converted into waste heat or useful electronic power.

"Ultrathin materials may tip the balance in this competition by simultaneously limiting heat generation, while increasing electronic power," he said.

Gabor explained that the quantum mechanical phenomenon his team observed in their device is similar to what occurs when cosmic rays, coming into contact with the Earth's atmosphere with high kinetic energy, produce an array of new particles.

He speculated that the team's findings could find applications in unforeseen ways.

"These materials, being only an atom thick, are nearly transparent," he said. "It's conceivable that one day we might see them included in paint or in solar cells incorporated into windows. Because these materials are flexible, we can envision their application in wearable photovoltaics, with the materials being integrated into the fabric. We could have, say, a suit that generates power - energy-harvesting technology that would be essentially invisible."

###

Gabor, Barati and Grossnickle were joined in the study by UC Riverside's Shanshan Su, Roger K. Lake, and Vivek Aji.

The research was supported by grants from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, U.S. Department of Energy, a Cottrell Scholar Award, and a National Science Foundation CAREER Award.

The University of California, Riverside (http://www.ucr.edu) is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment is now nearly 23,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

Media Contact

Iqbal Pittalwala
iqbal@ucr.edu
951-827-6050

 @UCRiverside

http://www.ucr.edu 

Iqbal Pittalwala | EurekAlert!

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Kiel physicists discover new effect in the interaction of plasmas with solids
16.01.2019 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel

nachricht Understanding insulators with conducting edges
16.01.2019 | Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Flying Optical Cats for Quantum Communication

Dead and alive at the same time? Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics have implemented Erwin Schrödinger’s paradoxical gedanken experiment employing an entangled atom-light state.

In 1935 Erwin Schrödinger formulated a thought experiment designed to capture the paradoxical nature of quantum physics. The crucial element of this gedanken...

Im Focus: Nanocellulose for novel implants: Ears from the 3D-printer

Cellulose obtained from wood has amazing material properties. Empa researchers are now equipping the biodegradable material with additional functionalities to produce implants for cartilage diseases using 3D printing.

It all starts with an ear. Empa researcher Michael Hausmann removes the object shaped like a human ear from the 3D printer and explains:

Im Focus: Elucidating the Atomic Mechanism of Superlubricity

The phenomenon of so-called superlubricity is known, but so far the explanation at the atomic level has been missing: for example, how does extremely low friction occur in bearings? Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institutes IWM and IWS jointly deciphered a universal mechanism of superlubricity for certain diamond-like carbon layers in combination with organic lubricants. Based on this knowledge, it is now possible to formulate design rules for supra lubricating layer-lubricant combinations. The results are presented in an article in Nature Communications, volume 10.

One of the most important prerequisites for sustainable and environmentally friendly mobility is minimizing friction. Research and industry have been dedicated...

Im Focus: Mission completed – EU partners successfully test new technologies for space robots in Morocco

Just in time for Christmas, a Mars-analogue mission in Morocco, coordinated by the Robotics Innovation Center of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) as part of the SRC project FACILITATORS, has been successfully completed. SRC, the Strategic Research Cluster on Space Robotics Technologies, is a program of the European Union to support research and development in space technologies. From mid-November to mid-December 2018, a team of more than 30 scientists from 11 countries tested technologies for future exploration of Mars and Moon in the desert of the Maghreb state.

Close to the border with Algeria, the Erfoud region in Morocco – known to tourists for its impressive sand dunes – offered ideal conditions for the four-week...

Im Focus: Programming light on a chip

Research opens doors in photonic quantum information processing, optical signal processing and microwave photonics

Researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have developed a new integrated photonics platform that can...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Our digital society in 2040

16.01.2019 | Event News

11th International Symposium: “Advanced Battery Power – Kraftwerk Batterie” Aachen, 3-4 April 2019

14.01.2019 | Event News

ICTM Conference 2019: Digitization emerges as an engineering trend for turbomachinery construction

12.12.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Artificially produced cells communicate with each other: Models of life

17.01.2019 | Life Sciences

Velcro for human cells

16.01.2019 | Life Sciences

Kiel physicists discover new effect in the interaction of plasmas with solids

16.01.2019 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>