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Nat Mater. 2011 Feb;10(2):135-40. doi: 10.1038/nmat2944. Epub 2011 Jan 16.

Ultralow-voltage field-ionization discharge on whiskered silicon nanowires for gas-sensing applications.

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Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of California-Davis, 2064 Kemper Hall, Davis, California 95616-5294, USA.

Erratum in

  • Nat Mater. 2011 Mar;10(3):252. Saif Islam, M [corrected to Islam, M Saif].


Several hundred million volts per centimetre of electric-field strength are required to field-ionize gas species. Such fields are produced on sharp metallic tips under a bias of a few kilovolts. Here, we show that field ionization is possible at dramatically lower fields on semiconductor nanomaterials containing surface states, particularly with metal-catalysed whiskers grown on silicon nanowires. The low-voltage field-ionization phenomena observed here cannot be explained solely on the basis of the large field-amplification effect of suspended gold nanoparticles present on the whisker tips. We postulate that field penetration causes upward band-bending at the surface of exposed silicon containing surface states in the vicinity of the catalyst. Band-bending enables the valence electron to tunnel into the surface states at reduced fields. This work provides a basis for development of low-voltage ionization sensors. Although demonstrated on silicon, low-voltage field ionization can be detected on any sharp semiconductor tip containing proper surface states.


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