Light emission in silicon tunnel diodes

James G. Mihaychuk*, Mike W. Denhoff, Sean P. McAlister, W. Ross McKinnon, Penghui Ma, Jean Lapointe, Albert Chin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


We report general hot-carrier mechanisms for electroluminescence (EL) in metal-insulator-silicon tunnel diodes. We demonstrate these effects using various combinations of Si-oxide and Al-oxide tunnel-barrier insulators. In addition to an EL peak near the 1.1-eV Si band gap, we observe broad-spectrum EL that can span the detector-limited range from 0.7 eV to 2.6 eV (1780 nm to 480 nm). The maximum above-band-gap photon energy increases with the forward bias, consistent with hot-carrier recombination in Si. Below-band-gap EL is likely due to (i) hot-electron inter-conduction-band radiative transitions in Si and/or (ii) radiative recombination via localized interface states. Light emanates from specific sites with apparent size < 1 μm that appear during high-forward-current electrical stress. The number of sites can be in the hundreds, and is in direct proportion to the stress current, as anticipated for tunnel barrier dielectric breakdown. Current-voltage characteristics can be fit using a model appropriate to localized breakdown sites. Virtually all current is thought to cross the barrier at such sites, with local current densities as high as 108 A/cm2. We also describe novel devices where tunnelling occurs at predetermined sub-micron sites formed in 18-nm-thick SiO2 using electron-beam lithography and wet-chemical etching.

Original languageEnglish
Article number55
Pages (from-to)423-436
Number of pages14
JournalProceedings of SPIE - The International Society for Optical Engineering
Issue numberPART 2
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2004
EventPhotonics North 2004: International Conference on Applications of Photonic Technology, ICAPT - Ottawa, Ont., Canada
Duration: 26 Sep 200429 Sep 2004


  • Electroluminescence
  • Microphotonics
  • Silicon
  • Soft breakdown

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