The amount of damage that radiation causes in electronic materials may be at least 10 times greater than previously thought.

That is the surprising result of a new characterization method that uses a combination of lasers and acoustic waves to provide scientists with a capability tantamount to X-ray vision: It allows them to peer through solid materials to pinpoint the size and location of defects buried deep inside with unprecedented precision.

Previous methods used to study damage in electronic materials have been limited to looking at defects and deformations in the atomic lattice. The new method is the first that is capable of detecting disruption in the positions of the electrons that are attached to the atoms. This is particularly important because it is the behavior of the electrons that determine a material’s electrical and optical properties.

To detect the electron dislocations, the physicists upgraded a 15-year-old method called coherent acoustic phonon spectroscopy (CAPS).

Oil explorers set off a series of small explosions on the surface and measure the sound waves that are reflected back to the surface. That allows them to identify and map the layers of different types of rock thousands of feet underground.

Similarly, CAPS generates a pressure wave that passes through a chunk of semiconductor by blasting its surface with an ultrafast pulse of laser light. As this happens, the researchers bounce a second laser off the pressure wave and measure the strength of the reflection. As the pressure wave encounters defects and deformities in the material, its reflectivity changes and this alters the strength of the reflected laser light. By measuring these variations, the physicists can detect individual defects and measure the effect that they have on the material’s electrical and optical properties.

The physicists tested their technique on a layer of gallium arsenide semiconductor that they had irradiated with high-energy neon atoms. They found that the structural damage caused by an embedded neon atom spread over a volume containing 1,000 atoms – considerably more extensive than that shown by other techniques.

This story is reprinted from material from
Vanderbilt News, with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier. Link to original source.