Quantum confinement and electroluminescence in ultrathin silicon nanowires fabricated by a maskless etching technique

We present a novel approach for the direct synthesis of ultrathin Si nanowires (NWs) exhibiting room temperature light emission. The synthesis is based on a wet etching process assisted by a metal thin film. The thickness-dependent morphology of the metal layer produces uncovered nanometer-size regions which act as precursor sites for NW formation. The process is cheap, fast, maskless and compatible with Si technology. Very dense arrays of long (several micrometers) and small (diameter of 5–9 nm) NWs have been synthesized. An efficient room temperature luminescence, visible with the naked eye, is observed when NWs are optically excited, exhibiting a blue-shift with decreasing NW size in agreement with quantum confinement effects. A prototype device based on Si NWs has been fabricated showing a strong and stable electroluminescence at low voltages. The relevance and the perspectives of the reported results are discussed, opening the route toward novel applications of Si NWs.

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