December 10, 2015

Nanostructured metal coatings let the light through for electrical devices

An array of nanopillars etched by thin layer of grate-patterned metal creates a
nonreflective yet conductive surface that could improve electronic device performance.
Image courtesy of Daniel Wasserman

(December 10, 2015)  Light and electricity dance a complicated tango in devices like LEDs, solar cells and sensors. A new anti-reflection coating developed by engineers at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, lets light through without hampering the flow of electricity, a step that could increase efficiency in such devices.

The coating is a specially engraved, nanostructured thin film that allows more light through than a flat surface, yet also provides electrical access to the underlying material – a crucial combination for optoelectronics, devices that convert electricity to light or vice versa. The researchers, led by U. of I. electrical and computer engineering professor Daniel Wasserman, published their findings in the journal Advanced Materials.

“The ability to improve both electrical and optical access to a material is an important step towards higher-efficiency optoelectronic devices,” said Wasserman, a member of the Micro and Nano Technology Laboratory at Illinois.

At the interface between two materials, such as a semiconductor and air, some light is always reflected, Wasserman said. This limits the efficiency of optoelectronic devices. If light is emitted in a semiconductor, some fraction of this light will never escape the semiconductor material. Alternatively, for a sensor or solar cell, some fraction of light will never make it to the detector to be collected and turned into an electrical signal. Researchers use a model called Fresnel’s equations to describe the reflection and transmission at the interface between two materials.

journal reference >>