A multi-institutional team led by the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) discovered a way to create new alloys that could form the basis of next-generation semiconductors.
Semiconductor alloys already exist-often made from a combination of materials with similar atomic arrangements-but until now researchers believed it was unrealistic to make alloys of certain constituents.
“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, a former NREL post-doctoral researcher and now research faculty at the University of Colorado Boulder.
“It’s a really nice example of what happens when you bring different institutions with different capabilities together,” said Holder, who also is affiliated with the University of Colorado, Boulder. His co-authors from NREL are Stephan Lany, Sebastian Siol, Paul Ndione, Haowei Peng, William Tumas, John Perkins, David Ginley, and Andriy Zakutayev.
A mismatch between atomic arrangements previously thwarted the creation of certain alloys. Researchers with CNGMD were able to create an alloy of manganese oxide (MnO) and zinc oxide (ZnO), even though their atomic structures are very different. The new alloy will absorb a significant fraction of natural sunlight, although separately neither MnO nor ZnO can.
The research yielded a first look at the phase diagram for heterostructural alloys, revealing a predictive route for properties of other alloys along with a large area of metastability that keeps the elements combined.