Effect of Material Structure on Photoluminescence of ZnO/MgO Core-Shell Nanowires


Zinc oxide (ZnO) nanowires are widely studied for use in ultraviolet optoelectronic devices, such as nanolasers and sensors. Nanowires (NWs) with an MgO shell exhibit enhanced band-edge photoluminescence (PL), a result previously attributed to passivation of ZnO defects. However, we find that processing the ZnO NWs under low oxygen partial pressure leads to an MgO-thickness-dependent PL enhancement owing to the formation of optical cavity modes. Conversely, processing under higher oxygen partial pressure leads to NWs that support neither mode formation nor band-edge PL enhancement. High-resolution electron microscopy and density-functional calculations implicate the ZnO m-plane surface morphology as the key determinant of core-shell structure and cavity-mode optics. A ZnO surface with atomic steps along the m-plane in the c-axis direction stimulates the growth of a smooth MgO shell that supports guided-wave optical modes and enhanced UV PL. On the other hand, a smoother ZnO surface leads to nucleation of a rough cladding layer which supports neither enhanced UV PL nor optical cavity modes. Finite-element analysis shows a clear correlation between allowed Fabry-Perot and whispering gallery modes and enhanced UV-PL. These results point the way to fabricating ZnO/MgO core-shell nanowires for more efficient UV nanolasers, scintillators, and sensors.

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