The Thin Films and Interfaces Group
Thin films are nowadays utilized in many applications, ranging from semiconductor devices to optical coatings and are even present in pharmaceuticals (polymers). This wide-spread application of films with thicknesses from atomic monolayers to microns is due to the developments of thin film deposition techniques. Thin films are also important for studies of materials with new and unique properties due to the possibility of tuning their crystallographic and morphological properties. The thin film approach, i.e. the presence of interfaces (to a substrate or the film surface) adds more degrees of freedom for influencing the properties of materials, e.g. by lattice strain or surface functionalization. For these fundamental studies of material properties large research facilities such as synchrotron radiation or neutron spallation sources are one of the keys that the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) provides. Read more
Thin-Film Oxynitride Photocatalysts for Solar Hydrogen Generation: Separating Surface and Bulk Effects Using Synchrotron X-Ray and Neutron-Based Techniques
The conversion of solar light into hydrogen by photoelectrochemical water splitting is one of the potential strategies that can allow the development of a carbon-neutral energy cycle. Oxynitride semiconductors are promising materials for this application, although important limitations must still to be addressed. One of the most important issues is physicochemical degradation of the semiconductor, at the interface with water, where the electrochemical reactions occur. In this regard, thin films, with well-defined and atomically flat surfaces, are invaluable tools for characterizing material properties and degradation mechanisms, while identifying strategies to mitigate detrimental effects. Thin oxynitride films may allow the use of complementary characterizations, not applicable to conventional powder samples. In particular, the study of the solid–liquid interface can benefit enormously from the use of thin films for synchrotron-based surface-sensitive X-Ray scattering methods and neutron reflectometry. These investigation approaches promise to speed up the design and discovery of new materials for the production of solar fuels, while paving the way for similar applications in other research fields. This work aims at reviewing the literature contributions on oxynitride thin films for solar water splitting summarizing what is learnt so far and suggesting experimental strategies to unveil what is still not clear.
Orthoferrites are a class of magnetic materials with a magnetic ordering temperature above 600 K, predominant G-type antiferromagnetic ordering of the Fe-spin system and, depending on the rare-earth ion, a spin reorientation of the Fe spin taking place at lower temperatures. DyFeO3 is of particular interest since the spin reorientation is classified as a Morin transition with the transition temperature depending strongly on the Dy-Fe interaction. Here, we report a detailed study of the magnetic and structural properties of microcrystalline DyFeO3 powder and bulk single crystal using neutron diffraction and magnetometry between 1.5 and 450 K. We find that, while the magnetic properties of the single crystal are largely as expected, the powder shows strongly modified magnetic properties, including a modified spin reorientation and a smaller Dy-Fe interaction energy of the order of 10 μeV. Subtle structural differences between powder and single crystal show that they belong to distinct magnetic space groups. In addition, the Dy ordering at 2 K in the powder is incommensurate, with a modulation vector of 0.0173(5) c∗, corresponding to a periodicity of ∼58 unit cells.
New Insight into the Gas Phase Reaction Dynamics in Pulsed Laser Deposition of Multi-Elemental Oxides
The gas-phase reaction dynamics and kinetics in a laser induced plasma are very much dependent on the interactions of the evaporated target material and the background gas. For metal (M) and metal–oxygen (MO) species ablated in an Ar and O2 background, the expansion dynamics in O2 are similar to the expansion dynamics in Ar for M+ ions with an MO+ dissociation energy smaller than O2. This is different for metal ions with an MO+ dissociation energy larger than for O2. This study shows that the plume expansion in O2 differentiates itself from the expansion in Ar due to the formation of MO+ species. It also shows that at a high oxygen background pressure, the preferred kinetic energy range to form MO species as a result of chemical reactions in an expanding plasma, is up to 5 eV.
Many in-memory computing frameworks demand electronic devices with specific switching characteristics to achieve the desired level of computational complexity. Existing memristive devices cannot be reconfigured to meet the diverse volatile and non-volatile switching requirements, and hence rely on tailored material designs specific to the targeted application, limiting their universality. “Reconfigurable memristors” that combine both ionic diffusive and drift mechanisms could address these limitations, but they remain elusive. Here we present a reconfigurable halide perovskite nanocrystal memristor that achieves on-demand switching between diffusive/volatile and drift/non-volatile modes by controllable electrochemical reactions.
Perovskite oxynitride semiconductors have attracted huge interest recently as promising photoelectrode materials for photoelectrochemical (PEC) water splitting. Oxynitride thin films grown by physical vapor deposition are ideal model systems to study the fundamental physical and chemical properties of the surface of these materials, including their evolution. Using a combination of high-sensitivity low-energy ion scattering (LEIS) and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), the surface evolution of LaTiOxNy (LTON) and CaNbOxNy (CNON) thin films before and after the PEC characterizations is monitored. This work provides therefore insight into the surface characteristics and evolution of LTON and CNON oxynitride thin films as photoelectrodes for PEC applications.
Student projects at the Thin Films and Interfaces Group
Most of the time we have student projects related to the work we do. Just talk to us if you are interested in something we are working on not advertised on our pages.
Currently, we are looking for a Semester or Master Student on the topic of Photocatalytic H2 production starting January/February 2022. The semiconductor material is the main part of any system harvesting solar energy, which transforms absorbed solar photons into excited electronic states. Biological systems provide an environment to operate in a more complex, yet more efficient fashion compared to many synthetic catalysts. Thus, a platform for solar fuel development must combine the best of both systems: the light harvesting capabilities of semiconductors with the catalytical power of biology, known as inorganic-biological hybrid systems for semi-artificial photosynthesis.
PhD projects at the Thin Films and Interfaces Group
At present, we have no open PhD positions available. Other open positions are always published on the PSI Open Positions page.