Photoexcited Emission Efficiencies of Zinc Oxide

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Optoelectronic properties of the II-VI semiconductor zinc oxide (ZnO) have been studied scientifically for almost 60 years; however, many fundamental questions remain unanswered about its two primary emission bands--the exciton-related luminescence in the ultraviolet and the defect-related emission band centered in the green portion of the visible spectrum. The work in this dissertation was motivated by the surprising optical properties of a ZnO nanowire sample grown by the group of Prof. Jie Liu, Department of Chemistry, Duke University. We found that this nanowire sample exhibited defect-related green/white emission of unprecedented intensity relative to near-band-edge luminescence. The experimental work comprising this dissertation was designed to explain the optical properties of this ZnO nanowire sample. Understanding the physics underlying such exceptional intensity of green emission addresses many of the open questions of ZnO research and assesses the possibility of using ZnO nanostructures as an ultraviolet-excited, broadband visible phosphor.

The goal of this dissertation is to provide insight into what factors influence the radiative and nonradiative recombination efficiencies of ZnO by characterizing simultaneously the optical properties of the near-band-edge ultraviolet and the defect-related green emission bands. Specifically, we seek to understand the mechanisms of ultraviolet and green emission, the mechanism of energy transfer between them, and the evolution of their emission efficiencies with parameters such as excitation density and sample temperature. These fundamental but unanswered questions of ZnO emission are addressed here by using a novel combination of ultrafast spectroscopic techniques in conjunction with a systematic set of ZnO samples. Through this systematic investigation, ZnO may be realistically assessed as a potential green/white light phosphor.

Photoluminescence techniques are used to characterize the thermal quenching behavior of both emission bands in micrometer-scale ZnO powders. Green luminescence quenching is described by activation energies associated with bound excitons. We find that green luminescence efficiency is maximized when excitons are localized in the vicinity of green-emitting defects. Subsequent photoluminescence excitation measurements performed at multiple temperatures independently verified that green band photoluminescence intensity directly correlates with the photogenerated exciton population.

The spatial distributions of green-emitting defects and nonradiative traps are elucidated by an innovative combination of quantum efficiency and time-integrated/resolved photoluminescence measurements. By combining these techniques for the first time, we take advantage of the drastically different absorption coefficients for one- and two-photon excitations to provide details about the types and concentrations of surface and bulk defects and to demonstrate the non-negligible effects of reabsorption. A comparison of results for unannealed and annealed ZnO powders indicates that the annealing process creates a high density of green-emitting defects near the surface of the sample while simultaneously reducing the density of bulk nonradiative traps. These experimental results are discussed in the context of a simple rate equation model that accounts for the quantum efficiencies of both emission bands.

For both femtosecond pulsed and continuous-wave excitations, the green band efficiency is found to decrease with increasing excitation density--from 35% to 5% for pulsed excitation spanning 1-1000 uJ/cm2, and from 60% to 5% for continuous excitation in the range 0.01-10 W/cm2. On the other hand, near-band-edge emission efficiency increases from 0.4% to 25% for increasing pulsed excitation density and from 0.1% to 0.6% for continuous excitation. It is shown experimentally that these changes in efficiency correspond to a reduction in exciton formation efficiency. The differences in efficiencies for pulsed versus continuous-wave excitation are described by changes in the relative rates of exciton luminescence and exciton capture at green defects based on an extended rate equation model that accounts for the excitation density dependence of both luminescence bands.

In using a systematic set of ZnO samples and a novel combination of optical techniques to characterize them, this body of work presents a comprehensive and detailed physical picture of recombination mechanisms in ZnO. The insight provided by these results has immediate implications for material growth/processing techniques and should help material growers control the relative efficiencies of ultraviolet, green/visible, and nonradiative recombination channels in ZnO.






Foreman, John Vincent (2009). Photoexcited Emission Efficiencies of Zinc Oxide. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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