The tensile elastic straining of diamonds could result in the next-generation microelectronics

Scientists demonstrate the tensile elastic straining of diamonds to be used in microelectronics, photonics, and quantum information technologies.

A joint research team led by City University of Hong Kong (CityU) has demonstrated for the first time the large, uniform tensile elastic straining of diamonds using a nanomechanical approach. Their findings have shown the potential of strained diamonds as prime candidates for advanced functional devices in microelectronics, photonics, and quantum information technologies.

The research was co-led by Dr Lu Yang, Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering (MNE) at CityU, said: “This is the first time showing the extremely large, uniform elasticity of diamond by tensile experiments. Our findings demonstrate the possibility of developing electronic devices through ‘deep elastic strain engineering’ of microfabricated diamond structures.”

Harnessing the conductivity of diamonds

Well known for its hardness, industrial applications of diamonds are usually cutting, drilling, or grinding. But diamond is also considered as a high-performance electronic and photonic material due to its ultra-high thermal conductivity, exceptional electric charge carrier mobility, high breakdown strength and ultra-wide bandgap. Bandgap is a key property in semi-conductor, and wide bandgap allows operation of high-power or high-frequency devices. “That’s why diamond can be considered as ‘Mount Everest’ of electronic materials, possessing all these excellent properties,” Dr Lu added.

The large bandgap and tight crystal structure of diamond make it difficult to modulate the semi-conductors’ electronic properties during production, hence hampering the diamond’s industrial application in electronic and optoelectronic devices. A potential alternative uses ‘strain engineering’ to apply very large lattice strain, to change the electronic band structure and associated functional properties of the diamond, which was considered impossible due to its extremely high hardness.

In 2018, Dr Lu and his collaborators discovered that nanoscale diamonds can be elastically bent with large local strain. This discovery suggests the change of physical properties in diamond through elastic strain engineering can be possible. Based on this, the latest study showed how this phenomenon can be utilised for developing functional diamond devices.

The impact of elastic straining on diamonds

The team then performed density functional theory (DFT) calculations to estimate the impact of elastic straining from 0 to 12% on the diamond’s electronic properties. The simulation results indicated that the bandgap of diamond generally decreased as the tensile strain increased, with the largest bandgap reduction rate down from about 5 eV to 3 eV at around 9% strain along a specific crystalline orientation. The team performed an electron energy-loss spectroscopy analysis on a pre-strained diamond sample and verified this bandgap decreasing trend.

Their calculation results also showed that the bandgap could change from indirect to direct with the tensile strains larger than 9% along another crystalline orientation. Direct bandgap in semi-conductor means an electron can directly emit a photon, allowing many optoelectronic applications with higher efficiency.

These findings are an early step in achieving deep elastic strain engineering of microfabricated diamonds. By nanomechanical approach, the team demonstrated that the diamond’s band structure can be changed, and more importantly, these changes can be continuous and reversible, allowing different applications, from micro/nanoelectromechanical systems, strain-engineered transistors, to novel optoelectronic and quantum technologies.

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