Replacement for Silicon Devices Looms Big with ORNL Discovery

March 23, 2016 ZEISS Microscopy

Groundbreaking work at DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory with ZEISS ORION Helium-ion microscope published

Two-dimensional electronic devices could inch closer to their ultimate promise of low power, high efficiency and mechanical flexibility with a processing technique developed at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Entrance to ORNL’s main campus. Courtesy of ORNL Press & Media Office, 2016.
Entrance to ORNL’s main campus. Courtesy of ORNL Press & Media Office, 2016.

A team led by Olga Ovchinnikova of ORNL’s Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences Division used a helium ion microscope, an atomic-scale “sandblaster,” on a layered ferroelectric surface of a bulk copper indium thiophosphate. The result, detailed in the journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces, is a surprising discovery of a material with tailored properties potentially useful for phones, photovoltaics, flexible electronics and screens.

This diagram illustrates the effect of helium ions on the mechanical and electrical properties of the layered ferroelectric. a.) Disappearance domains in the exposed area; as the mound forms yellow regions (ferroelectricity) gradually disappear; b.) Mechanical properties of the material; warmer colors indicate hard areas, cool colors indicate soft areas; c.) Conductivity enhancement; warmer colors show insulating areas, cooler colors show more conductive areas. Courtesy of ORNL Press & Media Office, 2016.
This diagram illustrates the effect of helium ions on the mechanical and electrical properties of the layered ferroelectric. Courtesy of ORNL Press & Media Office, 2016.

“Our method opens pathways to direct-write and edit circuitry on 2-D material without the complicated current state-of-the-art multi-step lithographic processes,” Ovchinnikova said.

She and colleague Alex Belianinov noted that while the helium ion microscope is typically used to cut and shape matter, they demonstrated that it can also be used to control ferroelectric domain distribution, enhance conductivity and grow nanostructures. Their work could establish a path to replace silicon as the choice for semiconductors in some applications.

“Everyone is looking for the next material – the thing that will replace silicon for transistors,” said Belianinov, the lead author. “2-D devices stand out as having low power consumption and being easier and less expensive to fabricate without requiring harsh chemicals that are potentially harmful to the environment.”

Reducing power consumption by using 2-D-based devices could be as significant as improving battery performance. “Imagine having a phone that you don’t have to recharge but once a month,” Ovchinnikova said.

The Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences (CNMS) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) integrates nanoscale science with neutron science; synthesis science; and theory, modeling, and simulation. Operating as a national user facility, the CNMS supports a multidisciplinary environment for research to understand nanoscale materials and phenomena. Can’t see the embedded video? Click here!

The paper, titled “Polarization control via He-ion beam induced nanofabrication in layered ferroelectric semiconductors,” is available at Co-authors are Vighter Iberi, Alexander Tselev, Michael Susner, Michael McGuire, David Joy, Stephen Jesse, Adam Rondinone and Sergei Kalinin.

This research was funded through the Laboratory Directed Research and Development program. Some of the work was performed at the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences, a DOE Office of Science User Facility.

UT-Battelle manages ORNL for the DOE’s Office of Science. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit


Homepage of Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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About ORNL

Oak Ridge National Laboratory is the largest US Department of Energy science and energy laboratory, conducting basic and applied research to deliver transformative solutions to compelling problems in energy and security.
ORNL’s diverse capabilities span a broad range of scientific and engineering disciplines, enabling the Laboratory to explore fundamental science challenges and to carry out the research needed to accelerate the delivery of solutions to the marketplace. ORNL supports DOE’s national missions of:Scientific discovery—We assemble teams of experts from diverse backgrounds, equip them with powerful instruments and research facilities, and address compelling national problems;

  • Clean energy—We deliver energy technology solutions for energy-efficient buildings, transportation, and manufacturing, and we study biological, environmental, and climate systems in order to develop new biofuels and bioproducts and to explore the impacts of climate change;
  • Security—We develop and deploy “first-of-a-kind” science-based security technologies to make the world a safer place.

ORNL supports these missions through leadership in four major areas of science and technology: 

  • Neutrons—We operate two of the world’s leading neutron sources, which enable scientists and engineers to gain new insights into materials and biological systems;
  • Computing—We accelerate scientific discovery through modeling and simulation on powerful supercomputers, advance data-intensive science, and sustain US leadership in high-performance computing;
  • Materials—We integrate basic and applied research to develop advanced materials for energy applications;
  • Nuclear—We advance the scientific basis for 21st century nuclear fission and fusion technologies and systems, and we produce isotopes for research, industry, and medicine.


Press release and image/video materials courtesy of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, 2016.


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