Though silicon has been the basis of semi-conductors for decades, it is facing stiff competition from other materials that promise to deliver several extras to consumers who like to enjoy more flexibility with their gadgets.
For some time, graphene, a one atom thick allotrope of carbon has been under consideration for use in electronic devices because its thin structure allows electrons to travel across it much more rapidly than they would do across silicon. However, graphene has severe limitations, as its conductivity is a little too high to be of much use in electronic devices, which need semi-conductors or materials with medium levels of conductivity. Another newly developed material dubbed phosphorene, which can form identical thin layers and is a semiconductor as well, offers a wider scope in electronics.
Scientists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have prepared a semiconducting material with black phosphorus in which a few phosphorus atoms have been swapped by arsenic atoms. Replacement of the phosphorus atoms with arsenic has caused the band gap to reduce to 0.15eV, which makes the material an effective semiconductor.
Phosphorene or black arsenic phosphorus can form very thin layers like graphene. Unlike silicon, which is hard and brittle, phosphorene is easy to manipulate into different kinds of structures and shapes. This makes possible a great range of electronic devices with considerable mechanical flexibility.
Scientists at TUM have built on technology that allows the fabrication of phosphorene with the application of high pressure. This reduces the production costs considerably. The research workers have been able to fine-tune the band gap exactly according to specific requirements by tweaking the arsenic concentration. According to Tom Nilges, who is heading the research team at TUM this has enabled them to produce a wide range of materials with diverse electronic properties that were not possible earlier.
Field Effect Transistors
American scientists from Yale University and the University of Southern California (USC) have collaborated with the researchers at TUM to build devices like field effect transistors with phosphorene. A group headed by Dr. Liu and Professor Zhou of the Electrical Engineering Department at USC has studied the transistor characteristics.
Further exploration of the material by the scientists revealed that the material when heavily doped with arsenic could be used for infrared detection. For instance, when the arsenic concentration is as high as 83%, the band gap in phosphorene is about 0.15eV. This fact makes it an effective sensor for infrared rays of long wavelengths. Researchers expect that the new substance can be effectively used as Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) sensors, which find use in applications for tracing dust particles and pollutants in the atmosphere and as distance sensors in vehicles.
Another noteworthy feature of phosphorene is its anisotropic nature. Electronic and optical properties of the material were studied using ultra-thin films in two mutually perpendicular, x- and y-axes. It was observed that the properties were different in the two directions.
Phophorene has an edge over other newly discovered thin-layered semiconductors because it is very easy to peel off layers from a parent black phosphorus crystal.