InAsNSb Dilute Nitride Materials for Mid-infrared Devices & Applications

Lead Research Organisation: Lancaster University
Department Name: Physics


We aim to achieve a breakthrough in the performance of "dilute nitride" semiconductor materials to enable the development of novel light sources and photodetectors which can operate in the mid-infrared spectral range. The 3-5 um wavelength range is technologically important because it is used for applications including; remote gas sensing, range-finding and night vision, bio-medical imaging for diagnosis in healthcare and sensitive detection in optical spectroscopy.
However, the development of instrumentation is limited by the availability of efficient, affordable light sources and photodetectors, which is directly determined by the semiconductor materials which are currently available. By introducing small amounts (~ 1%) of N into InAs(Sb) we have shown that it is possible to access the mid-infrared using a new (dilute nitride) semiconductor and we are now seeking to engineer its band structure in order to significantly enhance the material's optical properties and increase quantum efficiency for light detection and emission.

To enable the development of new photodetectors we will exploit the sensitivity of the conduction band to the resonant interaction of the N-level with the extended states of the host InAsSb crystal lattice to tailor the photoresponse and create a near ideal situation for electron acceleration and avalanche multiplication, resulting in a much larger detectable signal. To minimise the unwanted processes causing excessive noise and dark current, which compete with the avalanche multiplication and light detection in the detector, we shall arrange for the avalanche multiplication to be initiated by only one carrier type (electrons in our case). Many applications rely on the detection of very weak signals consisting of only a few photons. Conventional photodiodes have a limited sensitivity, especially if high speed detection is needed. In applications which are "photon starved", avalanche photodiodes (APDs) can provide an effective solution. However, at present effective avalanche multiplication in the mid-infrared spectral range can only be obtained by using exotic CdHgTe (CMT) semiconductor alloys. The resulting detectors require cooling, thus making CMT-based APDs prohibitively expensive for all except military applications. Simpler fabrication, low noise, low operating voltage, inexpensive manufacturing and room temperature operation, together with monopolar electron ionisation are all significant advantages of APDs based on the dilute nitride materials compared to existing technologies. Similarly, we shall enable the development of more efficient mid-infrared light sources. By adjusting the N content within InAsN(Sb) quantum wells and carefully tailoring the residual strain and carrier confinement, we shall be able to defeat competing non-radiative recombination processes whilst simultaneously enhancing the light generation efficiency. These novel quantum wells would then form the basis of the active region from where the light is generated, either within an LED or a diode laser. Currently mid-infrared LED efficiency is low at room temperature, and with the improvements which we shall deliver; we envisage that devices with significantly higher dc output power will be developed following our lead. Mid-infrared diode lasers incorporating our strained dilute nitride quantum wells are also expected to exhibit a reduced threshold current and could offer an affordable alternative to existing technology, especially in the 3-4 um spectral range. We will produce prototype photodetectors and LEDs and use these to demonstrate the above-mentioned avalanche behaviour and quantum efficiency improvements respectively. We shall validate our dilute nitride materials and structures in close collaboration with our collaborators at NPL, SELEX, CST and INSTRO to evaluate performance for use in practical applications and help ensure uptake of our technology.

Planned Impact

The mid-infrared spectral region contains the unique vibration-band spectral signatures of many important compounds. With the benefit of our device-quality dilute nitride materials, we shall enable the development of affordable mid-infrared sources and high sensitivity detectors. We envisage wide-ranging impacts through the development of new products and procedures that will generate wealth creation for the UK economy; subsequent development of instrumentation to improve homeland security, biomedical and environmental monitoring to enhance healthcare and quality of life in the workplace and in the environment; scientific advancement leading to substantial generation of new knowledge as well as effective training and professional development of researchers.
Our dilute nitride materials development will unlock applications for mid-infrared sources and detectors. Commercial opportunities will be developed through collaboration with NPL, SELEX, CST and INSTRO. These and other UK manufacturers will be able to design and produce new instrumentation to access sizeable new markets based on our fundamental materials development. For example, there is increasing interest in realising sensitive, cost effective instrumentation for widespread monitoring of air quality in oil refineries, landfill sites, chemical plants etc. There is a substantial value in environmental monitoring concentrations of greenhouse, toxic and flammable gases such as CO2, CH4 and VOCs over large areas (using DIAL) to map their cycles and identify sources and sinks. Our dilute nitride materials will enable the development of novel mid-infrared sources and detectors for remote sensing and enhanced gas monitoring capabilities over larger areas and from greater distances to achieve better air quality and a positive environmental impact on society.
In the longer term we envisage high performance APDs and 2D APD arrays with low production cost for integration into next generation mid-infrared imaging and range-finding equipment, providing powerful defence tools to identify concealed explosive threats and to improve vehicle collision avoidance. We anticipate new instruments for healthcare based on non-invasive measurement of proteins and bio-markers, while superior infrared detection of drugs and bio-agents will help combat terrorist threats. Hence our research has the potential to impact a very wide community by contributing towards the development of new technologies for improved air quality, healthcare, national defence and threat detection capabilities. We shall realize the above impacts through the effective involvement with industry from the outset as outlined in our impact plan.
We shall uncover a wealth of new scientific information which will significantly enhance understanding and impact strongly on the scientific community. Much fundamental information about InAsSbN and samples of our epitaxial material will be provided to academic colleagues (e.g. in Surrey, Hull, Warwick, Taiwan, Wroclaw Bristol, Dresden etc.). The project will also provide excellent training for post-doc researchers in epitaxial growth and characterisation of dilute nitrides and cutting-edge device physics. All staff including the senior researchers at Lancaster, Sheffield, Nottingham and the industrial partners will benefit from the collaboration and gain from the underpinning strengths of the respective partner institutions.


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Description We have obtained fundamental information concerning the incorporation, properties and behaviour of N in InAs based semiconductors for levels of N~1%. In addition to the reduction of the energy gap, we observed that addition of N causes a reduction in the radiative efficiency for light generation and produces a corresponding increase in the residual electron concentration.
We have reported a novel linear magnetoresistance phenomenon that arises from multiple scattering of the current-carrying electrons by macroscopic disordered regions of the InAsN alloy. Monte Carlo computer simulations of the electron motion confirmed the experimental observations at magnetic fields up to 50T, thus unraveling the origin of the linear magnetoresistance and opening new ways of controlling it.
Together with University of Rome we obtained new information on the effects of hydrogen in InAs(Sb)N dilute nitrides: we observed a substantial increase in the electron concentration due to H and recovery of the radiative efficiency, which was also obtained using rapid thermal annealing. In particular, we have demonstrated that the surface conductivity of InAsN can be significantly increased by the incorporation of hydrogen. For a fixed dose of impinging H-atoms on the surface, the width of the surface conducting channel decreases with increasing concentration of N-atoms, which act as H-traps thus forming N-H donor complexes near the surface.
We have demonstrated prototype mid-infrared devices including InAsN p-i-n diode photodetectors produced by ion implantation and obtained evidence of multiplication in APDs. We also produced InAsN quantum well LEDs and photodetectors, and recently demonstrated the first InAsN resonant tunnelling diodes.
Exploitation Route Our observations and modelling of the linear magnetoresistance are applicable to other disordered systems. Our prototype LEDs and detectors represent the first step towards enabling new capabilities in mid-infrared sensing and imaging following further improvements in quantum efficiency. The fundamental information produced will be useful to device designers and engineers developing photonic components and systems. The resonant tunnelling diodes will be of interest to electronic engineers: they demonstrate a novel mechanism for negative differential resistance due to N-induced localized states in the energy gap of InAsN and weakly affected by temperature. The functionalization of the surface by hydrogen and the corresponding modulation of the surface conductivity can provide a platform for several important applications, including gas sensing, "all semiconductors" plasmonic waveguides, and printed circuits.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Electronics,Environment

Description The high carrier concentrations obtained in InAsN followed by hydrogenation opens new possibilities for "all semiconductor" plasmonics applications for photonics and is being explored within a follow-on EU H2020 Marie-Curie training network (PROMIS).
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Education
Description Marie-Curie H2020 ITN
Amount € 3,974,560 (EUR)
Funding ID 641899 
Organisation EU-T0 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 01/2015 
End 12/2018
Title MBE growth reactor 
Description A new Veeco GenXplore MBE growth reactor with 10 ports for growth of III-V antimonide and dilute nitride nanostructures and devices was secured from European funding partly as a result of our successful research work on this project. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2014 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The new reactor is to be installed during the next 2 months. Samples will be grown and provided to collaborators and other researchers. in the near future. 
Title dilute nitride epitaxial samples for research 
Description we have developed the MBE growth of low bandgap dilute nitride materials - InAsN, InAsSbN 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2013 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Samples have been provided to a number of groups for further studies including high pressure, photoreflectance and Hydrogenation measurements e.g. at Surrey, Wroclaw, Taiwan, Rome resulting in (joint) publications. 
Description CST 
Organisation Central Support Technologies (CST)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Growth of samples
Collaborator Contribution - access to fabrication facilities for process technology available at CST. - advice on the manufacturing and commercial feasibility of new device concepts. - participation in collaborative research programmes of mutual interest.
Impact information exchange on sample processing
Start Year 2012
Description SELEX 
Organisation Selex ES
Department SELEX Galileo Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution growth of dilute N samples
Collaborator Contribution guidance on development of focal plane arrays
Impact information on detector specifications
Start Year 2012
Description Open days 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Our research was showcased to sixth form students and also members of the general public on visit days and open lab days by our postdocs and research students throughout the year. Activities involved short explanatory talks and lab tours including question and answers.

UCAS applications to Lancaster Physics have increased partly as a result of our outreach programme.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity Pre-2006,2006,2007,2008,2009,2010,2011,2012,2013,2014