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Au nano-islands on the AlN(0001) insulating substrate

An ideal system for charge injection in nano-objects

par Evelyne Prevots - publié le , mis à jour le

Depositing gold on the insulating AlN(0001) surface results in the formation of metallic islands with a thickness of one atomic layer and lateral dimensions in the 100nm range. This structure is quite unusual for a metal-on-insulator system. High-resolution NC AFM images coupled to DFT calculations show that some Au atoms react on specific sites of the surface. These islands are good candidates to be used as nano-electrodes to contact a single nano-object such as a molecule.

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(gauche) image NC-AFM des nano-îlots d’or sur la surface AlN(0001) ; (milieu) résolution atomique obtenue par NC-AFM à basse température (5K) montrant un moiré formé par la monocouche d’atomes d’or ; (droite) superposition du modèle calculé par DFT (jaune : atome d’or, violet : atome d’aluminium, gris : atome d’azote) sur l’image NC-AFM expérimentale.

A key step to electrically connect a single molecule in a planar geometry is to engineer metallic nano-pads on an insulating substrate. These pads should be thin enough (a few monolayers at most) to allow the observation of the connected object by Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM). But most metals grow on the usual insulating substrates (SiO2, MgO, KBr…) as tridimensional clusters. We chose to use the wide-gap semiconductor AlN (6.2 eV gap), whose surfaces are reactive, potentially favouring 2D growth of metals. Mastering the growth of AlN films by Molecular Beam Epitaxy allows us to control its surface at the atomic scale : The surface is (2x2) reconstructed, with one additional N atom per unit cell [1]. Depositing gold on this surface at 500°C results in the formation of large (a few 100 nm) monoatomic high nano-islands as shown in the non-contact AFM image on the left of the figure. A moiré pattern appears in the atomic resolution middle image, obtained at low temperature (5K). The analysis of this pattern led to the construction of a few atomic models that were tested by DFT calculations. This study shows that some of the Au atoms of the monolayer establish chemical bonds with the additional N atoms, which behave as electron acceptors, and with the Al atoms in sp2 configuration, which behave as electron donors. Moreover, the analysis of the atomic charges in this structure evidences an electron transfer from the AlN surface to the Au monolayer (-0,11 |e|/Au) as well as a lateral transfer in the unit cell. The combination of these three mechanisms is at the origin of the stabilisation of the Au monolayer on AlN(0001). Finally, the DFT-optimized atomic structure displays a distorted hexagonal structure that fits well with the experimental observation, as seen in the image on the right. Future experiments aim to connect a single molecule to these gold nano electrodes and to observe a charge transfer to the molecule.

 [1] Noncontact atomic force microscopy and density functional theory studies of the (2×2) reconstructions of the polar AlN(0001) surface, Florian Chaumeton, Roberto Robles, Miguel Pruneda, Nicolás Lorente, Benoit Eydoux, Xavier Bouju, Sébastien Gauthier, and David Martrou, Phys. Rev. B 94, 165305 – Published 17 October 2016



“Stabilization of Au Monatomic-High Islands on the (2×2)−Nad Reconstructed Surface of Wurtzite AlN(0001)”
Benoit Eydoux, Bulent Baris, Hassan Khoussa, Olivier Guillermet, Sébastien Gauthier, Xavier Bouju, and David Martrou
Phys. Rev. Applied 8, 044002 – Published 12 October 2017
DOI :https://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevApplied.8.044002



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