New exotic nanostructured materials : Theoretical predictions and experimental verifications

Abstract : This thesis is devoted to the study of advanced, exotic forms of nanostructured materials that could lead to the next big advance for nanodevices. Two distinct topics have been considered. The first one is related to plasma-born aromatic silicon nanoclusters (SiNCs), while the second is dedicated to two-dimensional silicon and germanium materials. Based on molecular dynamics simulations and ab initio calculations, as well as, on experimental investigations, we explore a variety of intriguing properties of those exotic materials that are expected to be far superior to those of their conventional counterparts.In the first part of the thesis, we begin with theoretical studies and show that it is possible to obtain aromatic behavior in simple hydrogenated SiNCs with size of ~1nm. We demonstrate that low-temperature silane/hydrogen plasmas close to dust formation present the ideal environment to exploit the natural tendency of silicon to over-coordination for the construction of structures with electron-deficient bonds. Those nanoclusters form spontaneously by self-assembly in plasmas, do not possess tetrahedral structures, are more stable than any other known SiNCs of this size, and have strong aromatic-like properties due to their high electron delocalization. We demonstrate that non-tetrahedral SiNCs exhibit metallic-like bonding schemes that strongly resemble the one of a homogeneous electron gas in small metal clusters. Standard tetrahedral SiNCs of this size can absorb light only in the ultraviolet, while our calculations have shown that pure, but over-coordinated SiNCs absorb light in the ultraviolet, visible, and infrared spectral region. In this thesis, we present first experimental evidence that supports our theoretical predictions. Using incoherent broadband cavity enhanced absorption spectroscopy, we have measured the absorption of SiNCs, in situ, in a plasma reactor and found that they do absorb light in the visible region. In addition, our absorption measurements in the presence of an applied electric field have provided clear evidence that aromatic SiNCs possess a permanent dipole moment, and we have measured it to be between 2 and 2.5 Debye, in excellent agreement to prior ab initio calculations. Finally, our transmission electron microscopy images of such SiNCs, after their deposition under optimized plasma conditions, have revealed the presence of another exotic form of silicon with a primitive hexagonal structure. Such a structure usually forms after exposing diamond-cubic silicon to extremely high pressures. We tentatively claim that those conditions were, actually, achieved in our experiments due to the “chemistry with a hammer”.In the second part of the thesis, we have undertaken in-depth theoretical and experimental studies on the growth of a new allotropic form of silicon and germanium: a single layer of silicon or germanium atoms, only one atom thick and packed in a hexagonal lattice that closely resembles the lattice of graphene, namely silicene and germanene. In order to rule out any intermixing between silicon or germanium atoms and the underneath substrate atoms, as it was the case for metallic substrates, and to maintain their promising features to be new Dirac materials, we have performed our depositions on a chemically inert graphite substrate. One of our crucial findings is that the silicene or germanene monolayers interact with the graphite substrate via van der Waals forces only. The van der Waals interaction is strong enough to stabilize the deposited monolayers even above room temperature, but weak enough to prevent any hybridization or alloying between silicon or germanium and carbon atoms. Consequently, the outstanding electronic properties of free-standing silicene and germanene, such as Dirac cones and massless electrons, are preserved even after their deposition on graphite surfaces.
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Fatme Jardali. New exotic nanostructured materials : Theoretical predictions and experimental verifications. Materials Science [cond-mat.mtrl-sci]. Université Paris-Saclay, 2017. English. ⟨NNT : 2017SACLX022⟩. ⟨tel-02303039v2⟩

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