Native surface oxide turns alloyed silicon membranes into nanophononic metamaterials with ultralow thermal conductivity

SY Xiong and D Selli and S Neogi and D Donadio, PHYSICAL REVIEW B, 95, 180301 (2017).

DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevB.95.180301

A detailed understanding of the relation between microscopic structure and phonon propagation at the nanoscale is essential to design materials with desired phononic and thermal properties. Here we uncover a new mechanism of phonon interaction in surface oxidized membranes, i.e., native oxide layers interact with phonons in ultrathin silicon membranes through local resonances. The local resonances reduce the low frequency phonon group velocities and shorten their mean free path. This effect opens up a new strategy for ultralow thermal conductivity design as it complements the scattering mechanism which scatters higher frequency modes effectively. The combination of native oxide layer and alloying with germanium in concentration as small as 5% reduces the thermal conductivity of silicon membranes to 100 times lower than the bulk. In addition, the resonance mechanism produced by native oxide surface layers is particularly effective for thermal conductivity reduction even at very low temperatures, at which only low frequency modes are populated.

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