Realising a solid state photomultiplier and infrared detectors through bismide containing semiconductors

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Electronic and Electrical Engineering


Semiconductors are commonly used in imaging sensors and solar cells, as they can directly convert light into an electrical current. The highest band of electron energies that are fully occupied is known as the valence band while the lowest unfilled energy band is the conduction band. The energy difference between the conduction and valence bands is known as the bandgap. When electrons from the valence band are excited into the conduction band by absorbing light with energy equals to or greater than the bandgap, the change of charges induces an electrical current. Consequently the bandgap is the most important parameter in the design of semiconductor photodetectors. While visible wavelength photodetectors are widely available, detectors for infrared wavelengths are significantly less mature and more costly. Progress in infrared detectors has been hindered by the limited choice of bandgaps currently available. In this work we will introduce a novel approach, by incorporating Bismuth (Bi) atoms into existing semiconductors such as InAs and InGaAs, to achieve a wide range of bandgap energies to detect infrared signals across a correspondingly wide wavelength range. Achieving this will lead to a new range of infrared detectors that can have transformative impact on applications including night vision imaging, medical diagnostic sensors, environmental monitors and for accurate temperature measurements in manufacturing processes.

We will also exploit Bi-alloys to engineer a noiseless charge amplification process in photodiodes known as avalanche photodiodes (APDs). When an electron leaves the valence band a vacant state (a hole) is created. Therefore an electron and a hole are created as a pair of charges in semiconductors. Properties of the conduction and valence bands will determine how electrons and holes gain energy from an applied electric field. In materials such as InAs, electrons gain energy at a much faster rate and travel at higher velocity too, when a voltage is applied. Therefore InAs is an excellent material for high speed electronic devices and also for providing internal signal amplification in APDs. When designed appropriately, the energetic electrons in InAs APD ensure that the amplification process, known as impact ionisation, is coherent so that negligible amplification noise is generated. In this work we will incorporate Bi into InAs to alter the valence band such that only electrons will gain significant energy from the electric field. This ability to suppress energetic holes will allow us to design very high gain APD across a wide range of electric field while concomitantly suppressing the noise associated with impact ionisation. By carefully controlling the fraction of Ga and Bi atoms, we will also develop a range of InGaAsBi APDs suitable for detecting a wide range of infrared wavelengths.

The proposed research to introduce a new class of Bi-containing infrared detectors and APDs, will be carried out by a carefully assembled team of world leading researchers from Universities of Sheffield and Surrey, in collaboration with the Tyndall National Institute, as well as partners from LAND Instruments, Laser Components and the UK Quantum Technology Hubs in Enhanced Quantum Imaging. Our work will start with a focus on formulating growth conditions (such as temperature and atomic fluxes) to obtain high quality InGaAsBi crystals. Following an intensive crystal growth programme, we will develop procedures to fabricate the grown InGaAsBi semiconductors into devices for a wide range of measurements to extract key material parameters. A model that accurately describes the bandstructure of InGaAsBi will be developed so that we can use them to design high performance infrared detectors and APDs. These newly engineered devices will be evaluated with our industrial partners for applications ranging from temperature measurements in manufacturing to novel imaging techniques using quantum properties of light.

Planned Impact

Our research in this new range of bismide semiconductors has immense potential to generate lasting impact in multiple areas. Exemplary immediate impacts that we aim to generate include:

Knowledge and new research opportunities: Through close collaboration with the National Centre for III-V Technologies, we will develop the capability to grow and fabricate high quality InGaAsBi material and devices. We believe success in the project will kick-start a rapid progress in Bi-containing semiconductor devices. Within the duration of this project, the immediate impact that we hope to achieve is to share the growth and fabrication expertise with the academic community in the UK to stimulate new research in this area. Significant knowledge generation in crystal growth, structural study, material properties and device optimisation is envisaged in this novel and timely research. Specific benefits to a variety of semiconductor based research activities have been described in the academic beneficiaries section.

Training: There is an urgent need to train over 100,000 engineers and scientists each year to power the UK economy. This project provides ideal career development opportunities for the PDRAs and the students. The benefits will include enhancing their research methodologies, PhD completion for the students and communication of results at international conferences and appropriate high impact international journals. They will also gain valuable experience interacting with engineers and scientists from our industrial and academic partners. A number of students pursuing Bachelor and Master degrees will also benefit directly from this project by working on smaller scale research projects in the topics of infrared detection, radiation thermometry and single photon detection. The researchers will also have the opportunity to develop professional skills through training programmes and working closely with the industrial partners.

Building on progress made from this project, we predict a wider economic and societal impacts will be realised as follows:

Economy: Through LAND, the UK leads the world in the accuracy and reliability of temperature measurement instruments. The global market size for infrared radiation thermometers is currently $180 million, growing at 3% per annum. We believe this technology will be important to provide a route for the UK to capture a 20% share of this market. Progress in this work can therefore be exploited in high performance instruments from LAND. This will also have a cascaded economic benefits to many UK companies that employ infrared radiation thermometers in their manufacturing processes, for example in steel, glass and plastics. Selex-ES and Thales Optronics are also major UK manufacturers of infrared imaging systems. The high performance infrared detectors developed, will provide new addition to strengthen their product portfolios and market share.

Societal: In health care, infrared thermal imaging is expected to become a powerful diagnostic method. Breast cancer screening using thermal imaging has been shown to be highly promising and two-colour detection using 3 - 5 micron wavelength light may reduce the false positives that have significant clinical consequences. There is active research in the areas of diabetes management, metabolic disorders and skin injury diagnosis. Infrared imaging is non-invasive and non-ionising (no damage to tissue), but its adoption thus far has been hindered due to a lack of customised detector solutions and affordable detector technologies across various infrared wavelengths. For environmental pollutant monitoring, our detectors could significantly improve the sensitivity of Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) systems for monitoring of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emission in the 3 - 5 micron MWIR band, which allows high optical transmission through the atmosphere and contains strong IR fingerprints of various VOCs.


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Description Elements from groups III and V in the periodic table can be combined to form a wide range of semiconductor. Bi is a group V element that can be added to mature semiconductors to modify the bandstructure and hence the optical and electrical properties too. In this project we demonstrated that Bi can be incorporated into InGaAs.
We have discovered that lowering the crystal growth temperature reduces the overall photodetector performance but the degradation can be limited by using higher growth temperature in the inactive region of the device.
Exploitation Route Outcome from this work to provide a new tool to design future solar cell, lasers and optical detectors that improve a wide range of applications including renewable energy, optical communication and imaging devices.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Chemicals,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Electronics,Energy

Description Research Collaboration with Cadiz University 
Organisation University of Cadiz
Country Spain 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution A variety of Bismide alloys have been grown at Sheffield. Bismide can be included to reduce the bandgap and hence provide potential for infrared detectors.
Collaborator Contribution Cadiz has performed very detailed High resolution transmission electron microscope analysis on Bi samples from Sheffield. The cost of TEM sample preparation, high resolution imaging and analysis were contributed by Cadiz.The results from the TEM have been submitted for journal publication.
Impact A paper has been submitted based on this collaboration. The paper has been reviewed and is awaiting decision.
Start Year 2016