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

Ramin Banan Sadeghian, M. Saif Islam

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    52 Citations (Scopus)


    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.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)135-140
    Number of pages6
    JournalNature Materials
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2011 Feb

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Chemistry(all)
    • Materials Science(all)
    • Condensed Matter Physics
    • Mechanics of Materials
    • Mechanical Engineering


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