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Optical manipulation of work function contrasts on metal thin films

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Science Advances  02 Mar 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 3, eaao6050
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aao6050

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Work function is a crucial metric in every optoelectronic device to ensure a specific charge transport scheme. However, the number of stable conductive materials available in a given work function range is scant, necessitating work function modulation. As opposed to all the previous chemical methods of work function modulation, we introduce here an alternative approach involving optical modulation. The work function is the minimum energy needed to eject an electron from a solid into vacuum and is known to be light-intensity–independent. A “light intensity dependent” change in work function was observed in metallic thin films coated on a semiconductor. This new phenomenon, contrasting the existing notions on work function, was tested and affirmed with three different systems, namely, Au/n-Si, Pt/n-Si, and W/n-Si. A work function shift of 0.22 eV is achieved in the Pt/n-Si system merely by tuning the illumination intensity from 0 to 18 mW/cm2. Continuous tuning of work functions to a specified range is now possible just by tuning the light intensity with a few discrete metals in hand. Moreover, selective illumination creates a work function contrast on the metal film, enabling in-plane charge transport. This throws new light on the design and understanding of the optoelectronic devices. In light of this, we also present a simple photodetector design that is sensitive to illumination direction.

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