Engineering, 2009, 2, 127-131
doi:10.4236/eng.2009.12015 Published Online August 2009 (
Copyright © 2009 SciRes. ENGINEERING
Electronic Ratchet Nanodiodes
Kunyuan XU1, Gang WANG2
1School of Physics and Telecommunication Engineering, South China Normal University, Guangzhou, China
2State key Laboratory of Optoelectronic Materials and Technologies, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, China
Received May 27, 2009; revised July 4, 2009; accepted July 10, 2009
Using a two-dimensional ensemble Monte Carlo (EMC) method, electronic nanometer devices with different
parameters are studied in detail. Calculation results show that at nanoscale the electric properties of interface
inside the devices play an important role in determining the working properties of the devices. By properly
arranging device structures, surface charges originated from device fabrication can be exploited to produce a
predetermined electric potential in the devices. Based on this fact, two structures that can lead to an asym-
metric potential along their nanochannel are proposed for designing strong nonlinear devices. Further studies
indicate that Ratchet effect brought by the asymmetric potential results in diode-like current-voltage charac-
teristics of the devices. Through optimizing device parameters, zero threshold voltage can be achieved,
which is desired for detecting applications. Moreover, since the devices are at nanoscale, simulation results
reveal that used as rectifiers the working frequencies can be up to a few THz.
Keywords: Ratchet Effect, Nanodiode, Asymmetric, Monte Carlo
1. Introduction
The conversion of unbiased, zero on average, determi-
nistic or stochastic perturbations into directed motion
(rectification) in a mesoscopic system has in recent years
attracted considerable interest in a broad physics com-
munity [1,2]. Such system is usually referred to as a
Brownian motor or a ratchet system and requires two
necessary conditions, namely, that the system must be,
first, brought away from thermodynamic equilibrium,
and, second, absent of the inversion symmetry (thus de-
termines the preferential direction) [1,2]. In order to re-
alize the latter condition, several unique methods are
proposed. The most common one is by means of spatial
symmetric breaking [3-5] or temporal symmetric break-
ing [6]. Recently, spatial and temporal symmetric but
spatiotemporal asymmetric system is also demonstrated
theoretically7 and experimentally [8]. Furthermore, the
breaking of inversion symmetry can be induced by dy-
namic mechanism, e.g., white shot noise [9,10], posi-
tion-dependent or state-dependent mobility [11,12] in
some complex situation.
In semiconductor systems, the well known rectifying
device is the pn junction or Schottky barrier based diode
whose symmetry is broken by the doping profile or a
band offset, respectively. At low temperature, the prop-
erties of electrons in mesoscopic structure are determ
ined by quantum mechanisms open a new area for inves-
tigating the ratchet effects due to quantum process such
as tunnelling[13,14] and quantum interference [15,16].
Recently, another interesting behavior of electrons,
namely ballistic transport, has also been exploited to
induce directed current in a planar nanodevice which
have been demonstrated to work at room temperature
and at least tens of GHz [17-22], whereas theoretical
work predicted operations at THz frequencies [23,24].
More recently, based on a semiconductor nanochannel
with a broken geometric symmetry, a new type of
nonlinear nanometer-scale device, called self-switching
diode (SSD), has been designed [25]. Working as rectifi-
ers, SSDs showed very high speeds up to 110GHz at
room temperature [26] and up to 2.5THz at a temperature
of 150K [27]. Following the experiments, theoretical
works were also carried out to further study the SSD
operations [28-33]. Moreover, both experimental and
theoretical works indicated in such nanometer devices
the surface charges on the sidewall of etched trenches
have a non-negligible influence on the device operations
[25, 28-31].
Comparing with classical models (drift-diffusion
model and hydrodynamic model), Monte Carlo (MC)
model shows an advantage of physical accuracy. For
example, it can overcome the problems like spurious
velocity overshoot or artificially enhanced particle diffu-
sion that occurs when hydrodynamic model is applied to
simulate deep submicron devices [34]. By using MC
model, one is able to qualitatively reproduce the main
features of nanodevices even if in some cases electrons
move in quasi-ballistic fashion [30]. In this work, we
perform MC simulations to focus on studying the influ-
ence of the surface charges at the semiconduc-
tor-insulator interface on the electron transport through
the planar nanodevices. Simulation results show that
such surface charges can be exploited to create an
asymmetric electric potential along the nanochannel.
This asymmetric potential brings a Rocking Ratchet ef-
fect and then results in diode-like current-voltage char-
acteristics of the devices. Through optimizing such
Rocking Ratchet device (RRD) parameters, zero thresh-
old voltage can be achieved. Since the device is at nano-
scale, simulation results reveal that it can work at fre-
quencies up to a few THz as a rectifier.
The paper is structured as follows. In Section 2, two
RRD structures are proposed and then the EMC model is
also described. In Section 3, RRDs with deferent pa-
rameters are simulated and their performances are com-
pared. The origin of the strong nonlinear steady-state
characteristics is analyzed and high-frequency perform-
ances are also achieved. Finally, the conclusions of the
work are summarized in Section 4.
2. Monte Carlo Model
Figures 1 shows schematically the top views of proposed
RRD “A” (c) and “B” (b), and their cross section (c).
The devices are based on an In0.53Ga0.47As/In0.53Al0.47As
heterostructure, where a two-dimension electron gas
(2DEG) is formed at the InGaAs-InAlAs interface. For
each device, the two insulating grooves are created by,
e.g., chemical etching, through the 2DEG layer, which
ensures that the electrons have to pass the narrow chan-
nel between the two grooves in order to conduct a cur-
rent between the left and right terminals. RRD “A” is
with a non-uniformed channel, while RRD “B” with a
uniformed one. But the two RRDs are both designed to
have asymmetric distributions of semiconductor insula-
tor interfaces in the devices. Since there are surface char-
Figure 1. Schematic top view of simulated RRD “A” (a) and
RRD “B” (b), and their cross section (c).
ges originated from device fabrication along the semi-
conductor-insulator interfaces, an asymmetric surface
charges distribution in the RRDs can be expected. Our
following studies will show that this asymmetry leads to
diode-like current-voltage (I-V) characteristics.
A semi-classical EMC method self-consistently cou-
pled with the Poisson equation is used in this work [35].
For an exact modeling of the devices, 3D simulations
would be necessary in order to take into account the
effect of the lateral surface charges and the real topology
of the structures. However, this is time-consuming and
also for most cases the 2D model suffices [28-31].
Hence, some theoretical treatments are made to enhance
the efficiency of the EMC simulations, which are similar
to the methodology previously adopted on SSDs [28-33].
Firstly, a 2D EMC simulation is performed only on the
active In0.53Ga0.47As layer, since it is the 2DEG that
largely determines the electronic properties of the device.
Secondly, to account for the fixed positive charges of the
whole layer structure, a virtual net background doping
= 1.01017cm-3 (without impurity scattering) is as-
signed to the In0.53Ga0.47As layer. As such, the electron
transport through the undoped In0.53Ga0.47As layer is well
described. Finally, in order to include the influence of
surface states at semiconductor-air interfaces originated
from the chemical etching process during the device fab-
rication, a uniform negative charge density
is added
at the edge of the insulating trenches during the simula-
tions. Our model has been verified by means of simulat-
ing a few real SSD structures that have been fabricated
from either an In0.53Ga0.47As/In0.53Al0.47As or an In0.75
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Ga0.25As/InP devices and a good agreement was obtained
between the simulated and measured I-V characteristics
3. Results and Discussion
In this section, efforts are devoted to a deep study of
RRDs, including the origin of diode-like I-V characteristics,
the effect of surface charge density on the steady-state
performance, and the rectification properties. During
EMC simulations, the left terminal of the devices is
grounded and a sweeping voltage from -1.6V to 1.6V
with a step of 0.2V is added on the right terminal of the
devices as shown in Figure 1(a) & (b). At each applied
voltage, the simulation has been carried out for a long
enough time to ensure that the devices reach a steady
state. Simulation results of the steady-state I-V character-
Figure 2. Current-voltage characteristics of RRD “A” and
“B” showing diode-like characteristics.
Figure 3. Electric potential variation along the center of
the nanochannel at applied biases of V = 0.4 V, 0.2 V
and 0 V.
istics of the two proposed RRDs (“A” and “B”) with a
negative surface charge density S
are plotted in Figure 2. It can be found that for applied
voltages with the same absolute value, current induced
by a negative one is always larger than that by a positive
one, showing asymmetric electron transport in the de-
As we mentioned in Section I, asymmetric transport is
always relative to the absent of some inversion symmtry.
Here the surface charge profile and the device geometry
are both with broken symmetry. The asymmetric geome
try of RRD “A” is because of the two isolated areas
which unlike that of SSDs can not block the transport of
electrons. Meanwhile, RRD “B” is just like two con-
nected resistors. Based on the two facts, one can easily
expect that the asymmetric geometry of considered RRDs
makes little contribution to the asymmetric transport.
Figure 4 I-V characteristics of RRD “B” with surface
charge densities of Ns=-0.15×1012/cm2 (1), -0.20×1012/cm2 (2),
-0.25×1012/cm2 (3) and -0.27×1012/cm2 (4).
Figure 5 Frequency responses of RRD “B” with virtually
zero threshold voltage, showing gradual reduce of the DC
current with the frequency.
In order to investigate the effect of surface charge
asymmetry, the electric potential variation along the
center of the devices (also the center of the nanochannel)
is calculated and the results of RRD “A” at different ap-
plied biases of V = 0.4 V, 0.2 V and 0 V are shown in
Figure 3. Since the negative charge will produce an elec-
tric field to prevent the approaching of electrons, an
asymmetric electric potential barrier emerges along the
nanochannel even at zero bias. The absent of this electric
potential barrier will block the electrons and make it dif-
ferent for them to flow through the nanochannel. By ap-
plying a voltage on the right terminal of the device, one
can lower this electric potential barrier so that making
the electrons pass through the nanochannel easier. As
shown in Figure 3, the electric potential barrier responds
to not only the amplitude but also the sign of applied
voltage. Obviously, a negative voltage has more effi-
ciency on lowering the electric potential barrier than a
positive one, which is called as Rocking Ratchet Effect
[1,2]. This effect leads to a strong asymmetric electron
transport through the devices resulting in diode-like I-V
characteristics as shown in Figure 2.
To further investigate the effect of surface charges on
the device performances, RRDs with various surface
charge densities are simulated. The results of RRD “B”
with surface charge densities of Ns=-0.15×1012/cm2,
-0.20×1012/cm2, -0.25×1012/cm2 and -0.27×1012/cm2 are
shown in Figure 4. One can find that with the increase of
surface charge density the current reduces while the ratio
of negative current to positive one increases. The incre-
ment of this current ratio indicates a growing of asym-
metric transport through the device which followed re-
sults in an enhancement of nonlinear I-V characteristics
near zero bias. By choosing a proper surface charge den-
sity N
s between -0.25~0.27×1012/cm2, a virtually zero
threshold voltage of the device can be obtained as shown
in Figure 4. Virtually zero threshold voltage is desired in
practical applications for not only simplifying the addi-
tional circuit but also reducing the 1/f noise [37]. Al-
though the surface charge density is difficult to exactly
control during device fabrications, one can alternatively
change the width of nanochannel to obtain a virtually
zero threshold voltage.
With strong nonlinearity at zero bias, RRDs are ex-
pected to use as a high-speed rectifier to convert micro-
wave signal to dc signal. To confirm this, a sinusoidal
signal with amplitude of 0.25 V is applied to the right
terminal while the left terminal is grounded. The recti-
fied current is then calculated at frequencies from 100
GHz to several THz. Figure 5 shows the simulation re-
sults for the RRD “B” with virtually zero threshold volt-
age. Although with the increase of signal frequency, the
dc output reduced gradually, the device has non-zero dc
output at frequency up to 3 THz, showing a potential for
THz applications.
4. Conclusions
A 2D ensemble Monte Carlo simulation has been carried
out to study the electric properties of RRDs, including
the origin of diode-like I-V characteristics, the effect of
surface charge density on the steady-state performance,
and the rectification properties. Simulation results show
that at nanoscale the surface charges originated from
device fabrication have a strong influence on the electric
potential in the device and can be exploited to produce a
predetermined asymmetric electric potential barrier
along the nanochannel by properly arranging the inner
etched insulating grooves of the devices. Based on this
asymmetric potential barrier, two RRDs with diode-like
I-V characteristics are proposed and their working prin-
ciple is explained in terms of Rocking Ratchet effect.
Since the proposed devices possess strong nonlinear I-V
characteristics, they may be useful in composing planar
integrated circuits. Moreover, the above strong nonlinear
feature exists even in the case of very high frequency (up
to 3 THz) showing strong potential applications, such as
power detectors or multipliers, in THz region.
5. Acknowledgements
This work is supported by “Xiangshi” Fund of School of
Physics and Telecommunication Engineering, South
China Normal University, Guangzhou, China.
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