Epitaxy, or growing crystalline film layers that are templated by a crystalline substrate, is a mainstay of manufacturing transistors and semiconductors.
If the material in one deposited layer is the same as the material in the next layer, it can be energetically favorable for strong bonds to form between the highly ordered, perfectly matched layers. In contrast, trying to layer dissimilar materials is a great challenge if the crystal lattices don’t match up easily. Then, weak van der Waals forces create attraction but don’t form strong bonds between unlike layers.
In a study led by the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, scientists synthesized a stack of atomically thin monolayers of two lattice-mismatched semiconductors. One, gallium selenide, is a “p-type” semiconductor, rich in charge carriers called “holes.” The other, molybdenum diselenide, is an “n-type” semiconductor, rich in electron charge carriers. Where the two semiconductor layers met, they formed an atomically sharp heterostructure called a p–n junction, which generated a photovoltaic response by separating electron–hole pairs that were generated by light. The achievement of creating this atomically thin solar cell, published in Science Advances,shows the promise of synthesizing mismatched layers to enable new families of functional two-dimensional (2D) materials.