14 June 2017
A way to create new alloys could form the basis of next generation semiconductors, say a team led by the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).
“Maybe in the past scientists looked at two materials and said I can’t mix those two. What we’re saying is think again,” said Aaron Holder, researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder. “There is a way to do it.”
A mismatch between atomic arrangements previously thwarted the creation of certain alloys. The research team, however, managed to create an alloy of manganese oxide (MnO) and zinc oxide (ZnO), even though their atomic structures are very different.
According to the team, the new alloy absorbs a significant fraction of natural sunlight, although separately neither MnO nor ZnO can.
Using heat, blending a small percent of MnO with ZnO already is possible, but reaching a 1:1 mix would require temperatures far greater than 1000°C and the materials would separate again as they cool.
The scientists – who also created an alloy of tin sulphide and calcium sulphide – deposited these alloys as thin films using pulsed laser deposition and magnetron sputtering. Neither method required such high temperatures.
“We show that commercial thin film deposition methods can be used to fabricate heterostructural alloys, opening a path to their use in real-world semiconductor applications,” NREL researcher Andriyr Zakutayev said.
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