Semiconductors on the cheap with new ‘glue’

U. CHICAGO (US)—A new “electronic glue” could speed up advances in less expensive semiconductor-based technologies, including solar cells, say researchers at the University of Chicago and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.


University of Chicago postdoctoral scholar Maksym Kovalenko (left) working with nanocrystals in a glovebox in the laboratory of Dmitri Talapin, an assistant professor of chemistry at Chicago. The environmentally controlled conditions of the glovebox permit researchers to perform chemical procedures not possible under room conditions. (Credit: Dan Dry)

Semiconductors have served as choice materials for many electronic and optical devices. Commercial solar cells, computer chips, and other semiconductor technologies typically use large semiconductor crystals, which is expensive and can make large-scale applications such as rooftop solar-energy collectors prohibitive.

For those uses, researchers say, engineers see great potential in semiconductor nanocrystals, that can be readily mass-produced and used for device manufacturing via inkjet printing and other solution-based processes. But the crystals are unable to efficiently transfer their electric charges to one another due to bulky, insulating organic molecules called surface ligands.

A team led by Dmitri Talapin, assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Chicago, developed an electronic glue that solves the ligand problem.

In the journal Science, the team describes how substituting the insulating organic molecules with novel inorganic molecules dramatically increases the electronic coupling between nanocrystals.

The research is supported by the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund, the Chicago Energy Initiative, U.S. Department of Energy, and Evident Technologies Inc.

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