Organic semiconductor

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Organic semiconductors are solids whose building blocks are pi-bonded molecules or polymers made up by carbon and hydrogen atoms and – at times – heteroatoms such as nitrogen, sulfur and oxygen. They exist in form of molecular crystals or amorphous thin films. In general, they are electrical insulators, but become semiconducting when charges are either injected from appropriate electrodes, upon doping or by photoexcitation.


General properties

In molecular crystals the energetic separation between the top of the valence band and the bottom conduction band, i.e. the band gap, is typically 2.5–4 eV, while in inorganic semiconductors the band gaps are typically 1–2 eV. This implies that they are, in fact, insulators rather than semiconductors in the conventional sense. They become semiconducting only when charge carriers are either injected from the electrodes or generated by intentional or unintentional doping. Charge carriers can also be generated in the course of optical excitation. It is important to realize, however, that the primary optical excitations are neutral excitons with a Coulomb-binding energy of typically 0.5–1.0 eV. The reason is that in organic semiconductors their dielectric constants are as low as 3–4. This impedes efficient photogeneration of charge carriers in neat systems in the bulk. Efficient photogeneration can only occur in binary systems due to charge transfer between donor and acceptor moieties. Otherwise neutral excitons decay radiatively to the ground state – thereby emitting photoluminescence – or non-radiatively. The optical absorption edge of organic semiconductors is typically 1.7–3 eV, equivalent to a spectral range from 700 to 400 nm (which corresponds to the visible spectrum).


Edge-on view of portion of crystal structure of hexamethyleneTTF/TCNQ charge-transfer salt, highlighting the segregated stacking SegStackEdgeOnHMTFCQ.jpg
Edge-on view of portion of crystal structure of hexamethyleneTTF/TCNQ charge-transfer salt, highlighting the segregated stacking

In 1862, Henry Letheby obtained a partly conductive material by anodic oxidation of aniline in sulfuric acid. The material was probably polyaniline. [2] In the 1950s, researchers discovered that polycyclic aromatic compounds formed semi-conducting charge-transfer complex salts with halogens. In particular, high conductivity of 0.12 S/cm was reported in peryleneiodine complex in 1954. [3] This finding indicated that organic compounds could carry current.

The fact that organic semiconductors are, in principle, insulators but become semiconducting when charge carriers are injected from the electrode(s) was discovered by Kallmann and Pope. [4] [5] They found that a hole current can flow through an anthracene crystal contacted with a positively biased electrolyte containing iodine that can act as a hole injector. This work was stimulated by the earlier discovery by Akamatu et al. [6] that aromatic hydrocarbons become conductive when blended with molecular iodine because a charge-transfer complex is formed. Since it was readily realized that the crucial parameter that controls injection is the work function of the electrode, it was straightforward to replace the electrolyte by a solid metallic or semiconducting contact with an appropriate work function. When both electrons and holes are injected from opposite contacts, they can recombine radiatively and emit light (electroluminescence). It was observed in organic crystals in 1965 by Sano et al. [7]

In 1972, researchers found metallic conductivity in the charge-transfer complex TTF-TCNQ. Superconductivity in charge-transfer complexes was first reported in the Bechgaard salt (TMTSF)2PF6 in 1980. [8]

In 1973 Dr. John McGinness produced the first device incorporating an organic semiconductor. This occurred roughly eight years before the next such device was created. The "melanin (polyacetylenes) bistable switch" currently is part of the chips collection of the Smithsonian Institution. [9]

An organic polymer voltage-controlled switch from 1974. Now in the Smithsonian Chip collection Gadget128.jpg
An organic polymer voltage-controlled switch from 1974. Now in the Smithsonian Chip collection

In 1977, Shirakawa et al. reported high conductivity in oxidized and iodine-doped polyacetylene. [10] They received the 2000 Nobel prize in Chemistry for "The discovery and development of conductive polymers". [11] Similarly, highly conductive polypyrrole was rediscovered in 1979. [12]

Rigid-backbone organic semiconductors are now used as active elements in optoelectronic devices such as organic light-emitting diodes (OLED), organic solar cells, organic field-effect transistors (OFET), electrochemical transistors and recently in biosensing applications. Organic semiconductors have many advantages, such as easy fabrication, mechanical flexibility, and low cost.

The discovery by Kallman and Pope paved the way for applying organic solids as active elements in semiconducting electronic devices, such as organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) that rely on the recombination of electrons and hole injected from "ohmic" electrodes, i.e. electrodes with unlimited supply of charge carriers. [13] The next major step towards the technological exploitation of the phenomenon of electron and hole injection into a non-crystalline organic semiconductor was the work by Tang and Van Slyke. [14] They showed that efficient electroluminescence can be generated in a vapor-deposited thin amorphous bilayer of an aromatic diamine (TAPC) and Alq3 sandwiched between an indium-tin-oxide (ITO) anode and an Mg:Ag cathode. Another milestone towards the development of organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) was the recognition that also conjugated polymers can be used as active materials. [15] The efficiency of OLEDs was greatly improved when realizing that phosphorescent states (triplet excitons) may be used for emission when doping an organic semiconductor matrix with a phosphorescent dye, such as complexes of iridium with strong spin–orbit coupling. [16]

Work on conductivity of anthracene crystals contacted with an electrolyte showed that optically excited dye molecules adsorbed at the surface of the crystal inject charge carriers. [17] The underlying phenomenon is called sensitized photoconductivity. It occurs when photo-exciting a dye molecule with appropriate oxidation/reduction potential adsorbed at the surface or incorporated in the bulk. This effect revolutionized electrophotography, which is the technological basis of today's office copying machines. [18] It is also the basis of organic solar cells (OSCs), in which the active element is an electron donor, and an electron acceptor material is combined in a bilayer or a bulk heterojunction.

Doping with strong electron donor or acceptors can render organic solids conductive even in the absence of light. Examples are doped polyacetylene [19] and doped light-emitting diodes. [20]
Today organic semiconductors are used as active elements in organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs), organic solar cells (OSCs) and organic field-effect transistors (OFETs).


Amorphous molecular films

Amorphous molecular films are produced by evaporation or spin-coating. They have been investigated for device applications such as OLEDs, OFETs, and OSCs. Illustrative materials are tris(8-hydroxyquinolinato)aluminium, C60, phenyl-C61-butyric acid methyl ester (PCBM), pentacene, carbazoles, and phthalocyanine.

Molecularly doped polymers

Molecularly doped polymers are prepared by spreading a film of an electrically inert polymer, e.g. polycarbonate, doped with typically 30% of charge transporting molecules, on a base electrode. Typical materials are the triphenylenes. They have been investigated for use as photoreceptors in electrophotography. [18] This requires films have a thickness of several micrometers that can be prepared using the doctor-blade technique.

Molecular crystals

In the early days of fundamental research into organic semiconductors the prototypical materials were free-standing single crystals of the acene family, e.g. anthracene and tetracene. [21] The advantage of employing molecular crystals instead of amorphous film is that their charge carrier mobilities are much larger. This is of particular advantage for OFET applications. Examples are thin films of crystalline rubrene prepared by hot wall epitaxy. [22] [23]

Neat polymer films

They are usually processed from solution employing variable deposition techniques including simple spin-coating, ink-jet deposition or industrial reel-to-reel coating which allows preparing thin films on a flexible substrate. The materials of choice are conjugated polymers such as poly-thiophene, poly-phenylenevinylene, and copolymers of alternating donor and acceptor units such as members of the poly(carbazole-dithiophene-benzothiadiazole (PCDTBT) family. [24] For solar cell applications they can be blended with C60 or PCBM as electron acceptors.

Aromatic short peptides self-assemblies

Aromatic short peptides self-assemblies are a kind of promising candidate for bioinspired and durable nanoscale semiconductors. [25] The highly ordered and directional intermolecular π-π interactions and hydrogen-bonding network allow the formation of quantum confined structures within the peptide self-assemblies, thus decreasing the band gaps of the superstructures into semiconductor regions. [26] As a result of the diverse architectures and ease of modification of peptide self-assemblies, their semiconductivity can be readily tuned, doped, and functionalized. Therefore, this family of electroactive supramolecular materials may bridge the gap between the inorganic semiconductor world and biological systems.


To design and characterize organic semiconductors used for optoelectronic applications one should first measure the absorption and photoluminescence spectra using commercial instrumentation. However, in order to find out if a material acts as an electron donor or acceptor one has to determine the energy levels for hole and electron transport. The easiest way of doing this, is to employ cyclic voltammetry. However, one has to take into account that using this technique the experimentally determined oxidation and reduction potential are lower bounds because in voltammetry the radical cations and anions are in a polar fluid solution and are, thus, solvated. Such a solvation effect is absent in a solid specimen. The relevant technique to energetically locate the hole transporting states in a solid sample is UV-photoemission spectroscopy. The equivalent technique for electron states is inverse photoemission. [27]

There are several techniques to measure the mobility of charge carriers. The traditional technique is the so-called time of flight (TOF) method. Since this technique requires relatively thick samples it is not applicable to thin films. Alternatively, one can extract the charge carrier mobility from the current flowing in a field effect transistor as a function of both the source-drain and the gate voltage. One should be aware, though, that the FET-mobility is significantly larger than the TOF mobility because of the charge carrier concentration in the transport channel of a FET (see below). Other ways to determine the charge carrier mobility involves measuring space charge limited current (SCLC) flow and "carrier extraction by linearly increasing voltage (CELIV). [28]

In order to characterize the morphology of semiconductor films, one can apply atomic force microscopy (AFM) scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and Grazing-incidence small-angle scattering (GISAS).

Charge transport

In contrast to organic crystals investigated in the 1960-70s, organic semiconductors that are nowadays used as active media in optoelectronic devices are usually more or less disordered. Combined with the fact that the structural building blocks are held together by comparatively weak van der Waals forces this precludes charge transport in delocalized valence and conduction bands. Instead, charge carriers are localized at molecular entities, e.g. oligomers or segments of a conjugated polymer chain and move by incoherent hopping among adjacent sites with statistically variable energies. Quite often the site energies feature a Gaussian distribution. Also the hopping distances can vary statistically (positional disorder). A consequence of the energetic broadening of the density of states (DOS) distribution is that charge motion is both temperature and field dependent and the charge carrier mobility can be several orders of magnitude lower than in an equivalent crystalline system. This disorder effect on charge carrier motion is diminished in organic field-effect transistors because current flow is confined in a thin layer. Therefore, the tail states of the DOS distribution are already filled so that the activation energy for charge carrier hopping is diminished. For this reason the charge carrier mobility inferred from FET experiments is always higher than that determined from TOF experiments. [28]

In organic semiconductors charge carriers couple to vibrational modes and are referred to as polarons. Therefore, the activation energy for hopping motion contains an additional term due to structural site relaxation upon charging a molecular entity. It turns out, however, that usually the disorder contribution to the temperature dependence of the mobility dominates over the polaronic contribution. [29]

See also

Related Research Articles

Organic electronics

Organic electronics is a field of materials science concerning the design, synthesis, characterization, and application of organic small molecules or polymers that show desirable electronic properties such as conductivity. Unlike conventional inorganic conductors and semiconductors, organic electronic materials are constructed from organic (carbon-based) small molecules or polymers using synthetic strategies developed in the context of organic and polymer chemistry. One of the promised benefits of organic electronics is their potential low cost compared to traditional inorganic electronics. Attractive properties of polymeric conductors include their electrical conductivity that can be varied by the concentrations of dopants. Relative to metals, they have mechanical flexibility. Some have high thermal stability.

A semiconductor material has an electrical conductivity value falling between that of a conductor, such as metallic copper, and an insulator, such as glass. Its resistance falls as its temperature rises; metals are the opposite. Its conducting properties may be altered in useful ways by introducing impurities ("doping") into the crystal structure. Where two differently-doped regions exist in the same crystal, a semiconductor junction is created. The behavior of charge carriers which include electrons, ions and electron holes at these junctions is the basis of diodes, transistors and all modern electronics. Some examples of semiconductors are silicon, germanium, gallium arsenide, and elements near the so-called "metalloid staircase" on the periodic table. After silicon, gallium arsenide is the second most common semiconductor and is used in laser diodes, solar cells, microwave-frequency integrated circuits and others. Silicon is a critical element for fabricating most electronic circuits.

Molecular electronics is the study and application of molecular building blocks for the fabrication of electronic components. It is an interdisciplinary area that spans physics, chemistry, and materials science. The unifying feature is use of molecular building blocks to fabricate electronic components. Due to the prospect of size reduction in electronics offered by molecular-level control of properties, molecular electronics has generated much excitement. It provides a potential means to extend Moore's Law beyond the foreseen limits of small-scale conventional silicon integrated circuits.

A semiconductor device is an electronic component that relies on the electronic properties of a semiconductor material for its function. Semiconductor devices have replaced vacuum tubes in most applications. They use electrical conduction in the solid state rather than the gaseous state or thermionic emission in a vacuum.

OLED Diode which emits light from an organic compound

An organic light-emitting diode, also known as an organic EL diode, is a light-emitting diode (LED) in which the emissive electroluminescent layer is a film of organic compound that emits light in response to an electric current. This organic layer is situated between two electrodes; typically, at least one of these electrodes is transparent. OLEDs are used to create digital displays in devices such as television screens, computer monitors, portable systems such as smartphones, handheld game consoles and PDAs. A major area of research is the development of white OLED devices for use in solid-state lighting applications.

Conductive polymer polymeric chemical substance which intrinsically conducts electricity

Conductive polymers or, more precisely, intrinsically conducting polymers (ICPs) are organic polymers that conduct electricity. Such compounds may have metallic conductivity or can be semiconductors. The biggest advantage of conductive polymers is their processability, mainly by dispersion. Conductive polymers are generally not thermoplastics, i.e., they are not thermoformable. But, like insulating polymers, they are organic materials. They can offer high electrical conductivity but do not show similar mechanical properties to other commercially available polymers. The electrical properties can be fine-tuned using the methods of organic synthesis and by advanced dispersion techniques.

In semiconductor production, doping is the intentional introduction of impurities into an intrinsic semiconductor for the purpose of modulating its electrical, optical and structural properties. The doped material is referred to as an extrinsic semiconductor. A semiconductor doped to such high levels that it acts more like a conductor than a semiconductor is referred to as a degenerate semiconductor.

Flexible organic light-emitting diode type of organic light-emitting diode incorporating a flexible plastic substrate on which the electroluminescent organic semiconductor is deposited

A flexible organic light-emitting diode (FOLED) is a type of organic light-emitting diode (OLED) incorporating a flexible plastic substrate on which the electroluminescent organic semiconductor is deposited. This enables the device to be bent or rolled while still operating. Currently the focus of research in industrial and academic groups, flexible OLEDs form one method of fabricating a rollable display.

Organic field-effect transistor

An organic field-effect transistor (OFET) is a field-effect transistor using an organic semiconductor in its channel. OFETs can be prepared either by vacuum evaporation of small molecules, by solution-casting of polymers or small molecules, or by mechanical transfer of a peeled single-crystalline organic layer onto a substrate. These devices have been developed to realize low-cost, large-area electronic products and biodegradable electronics. OFETs have been fabricated with various device geometries. The most commonly used device geometry is bottom gate with top drain and source electrodes, because this geometry is similar to the thin-film silicon transistor (TFT) using thermally grown SiO2 as gate dielectric. Organic polymers, such as poly(methyl-methacrylate) (PMMA), can also be used as dielectric.

Rubrene chemical compound

Rubrene (5,6,11,12-tetraphenyltetracene) is a red colored polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon. Rubrene is used as a sensitiser in chemoluminescence and as a yellow light source in lightsticks.

Tetracene chemical compound

Tetracene, also called naphthacene, is a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon. It has the appearance of a pale orange powder. Tetracene is the four-ringed member of the series of acenes. Tetracene is a molecular organic semiconductor, used in organic field-effect transistors (OFETs) and organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs). In May 2007, researchers from two Japanese universities, Tohoku University in Sendai and Osaka University, reported an ambipolar light-emitting transistor made of a single tetracene crystal. Ambipolar means that the electric charge is transported by both positively charged holes and negatively charged electrons. Tetracene can be also used as a gain medium in dye lasers as a sensitiser in chemoluminescence.

Hybrid solar cells combine advantages of both organic and inorganic semiconductors. Hybrid photovoltaics have organic materials that consist of conjugated polymers that absorb light as the donor and transport holes. Inorganic materials in hybrid cells are used as the acceptor and electron transporter in the structure. The hybrid photovoltaic devices have a potential for not only low-cost by roll-to-roll processing but also for scalable solar power conversion.

Martin Pope American scientist

Martin Pope is a physical chemist and professor emeritus at New York University.

Printed electronics

Printed electronics is a set of printing methods used to create electrical devices on various substrates. Printing typically uses common printing equipment suitable for defining patterns on material, such as screen printing, flexography, gravure, offset lithography, and inkjet. By electronic industry standards, these are low cost processes. Electrically functional electronic or optical inks are deposited on the substrate, creating active or passive devices, such as thin film transistors; capacitors; coils; resistors. Printed electronics is expected to facilitate widespread, very low-cost, low-performance electronics for applications such as flexible displays, smart labels, decorative and animated posters, and active clothing that do not require high performance.

Organic photovoltaic devices (OPVs) are fabricated from thin films of organic semiconductors, such as polymers and small-molecule compounds, and are typically on the order of 100 nm thick. Because polymer based OPVs can be made using a coating process such as spin coating or inkjet printing, they are an attractive option for inexpensively covering large areas as well as flexible plastic surfaces. A promising low cost alternative to conventional solar cells made of crystalline silicon, there is a large amount of research being dedicated throughout industry and academia towards developing OPVs and increasing their power conversion efficiency.

Organic solar cell

An organic solar cell (OSC) or plastic solar cell is a type of photovoltaic that uses organic electronics, a branch of electronics that deals with conductive organic polymers or small organic molecules, for light absorption and charge transport to produce electricity from sunlight by the photovoltaic effect. Most organic photovoltaic cells are polymer solar cells.

Transparent conducting film Optically transparent and electrically conductive material

Transparent conducting films (TCFs) are thin films of optically transparent and electrically conductive material. They are an important component in a number of electronic devices including liquid-crystal displays, OLEDs, touchscreens and photovoltaics. While indium tin oxide (ITO) is the most widely used, alternatives include wider-spectrum transparent conductive oxides (TCOs), conductive polymers, metal grids and random metallic networks, carbon nanotubes (CNT), graphene, nanowire meshes and ultra thin metal films.

Field-effect transistor transistor that uses an electric field to control its electrical behaviour

The field-effect transistor (FET) is a type of transistor which uses an electric field to control the flow of current. FETs are devices with three terminals: source, gate, and drain. FETs control the flow of current by the application of a voltage to the gate, which in turn alters the conductivity between the drain and source.


A chemiresistor is a material that changes its electrical resistance in response to changes in the nearby chemical environment. Chemiresistors are a class of chemical sensors that rely on the direct chemical interaction between the sensing material and the analyte. The sensing material and the analyte can interact by covalent bonding, hydrogen bonding, or molecular recognition. Several different materials have chemiresistor properties: metal-oxide semiconductors, some conductive polymers, and nanomaterials like graphene, carbon nanotubes and nanoparticles. Typically these materials are used as partially selective sensors in devices like electronic tongues or electronic noses.

Contorted aromatics

Contorted aromatics or more precisely contorted polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in which the fused aromatic molecules deviate from the usual planarity.


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