Photo-thermionic effect in vertical graphene heterostructures

Research paper by Mathieu Massicotte, Peter Schmidt, Fabien Vialla, Kenji Watanabe, Takashi Taniguchi, Klaas-Jan Tielrooij, Frank H. L. Koppens

Indexed on: 10 Jun '16Published on: 10 Jun '16Published in: Physics - Mesoscopic Systems and Quantum Hall Effect


Finding alternative optoelectronic mechanisms that overcome the limitations of conventional semiconductor devices is paramount for detecting and harvesting low-energy photons. A highly promising approach is to drive a current from the thermal energy added to the free-electron bath as a result of light absorption. Successful implementation of this strategy requires a broadband absorber where carriers interact among themselves more strongly than with phonons, as well as energy-selective contacts to extract the excess electronic heat. Here we show that graphene-WSe2-graphene heterostructure devices offer this possibility through the photo-thermionic effect: the absorbed photon energy in graphene is efficiently transferred to the electron bath, leading to a thermalized hot carrier distribution. Carriers with energy higher than the Schottky barrier between graphene and WSe2 can be emitted over the barrier, thus creating photocurrent. We experimentally demonstrate that the photo-thermionic effect enables detection of sub-bandgap photons, while being size-scalable, electrically tunable, broadband and ultrafast.