Critical Interface States Controlling Rectification of Ultrathin NiO-ZnO p-n Heterojunctions

K. Xerxes Steirer, Kai Lin Ou, Neal R. Armstrong, Erin L. Ratcliff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Herein, we consider the heterojunction formation of two prototypical metal oxides: p-type NiO and n-type ZnO. Elementally abundant, low-cost metal oxide/oxide' heterojunctions are of interest for UV optical sensing, gas sensing, photocatalysis, charge confinement layers, piezoelectric nanogenerators, and flash memory devices. These heterojunctions can also be used as current rectifiers and potentially as recombination layers in tandem photovoltaic stacks by making the two oxide layers ultrathin. In the ultrathin geometry, understanding and control of interface electronic structure and chemical reactions at the oxide/oxide' interface are critical to functionality, as oxygen atoms are shared at the interface of the dissimilar materials. In the studies presented here the extent of chemical reactions and interface band bending is monitored using X-ray and ultraviolet photoelectron spectroscopies. Interface reactivity is controlled by varying the near surface composition of nickel oxide, nickel hydroxide, and nickel oxyhydroxide using standard surface-treatment procedures. A direct correlation between relative percentage of interface hydroxyl chemistry (and hence surface Lewis basicity) and the local band edge alignment for ultrathin p-n junctions (6 nm NiO/30 nm ZnO) is observed. We propose an acid-base formulism to explain these results: the stronger the acid-base reaction, the greater the fraction of interfacial electronic states which lower the band offset between the ZnO conduction band and the NiO valence band. Increased interfacial gap states result in larger reverse bias current of the p-n junction and lower rectification ratios. The acid-base formulism could serve as a future design principle for oxide/oxide' and other heterojunctions based on dissimilar materials.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)31111-31118
Number of pages8
JournalACS Applied Materials and Interfaces
Issue number36
StatePublished - Sep 13 2017


  • diode
  • interface
  • nickel oxide
  • oxide heterojunction
  • photoemission spectroscopies
  • zinc oxide

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Materials Science(all)


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