Dopants have played a key role as carrier providers in conventional solid-state electronic devices. In downscaled metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect transistors (MOSFETs), discrete dopant atoms significantly affect the subthreshold transport characteristics1,2,3. In addition, it was found that dopant atoms can also actively participate in transport as ultra-small quantum dots (QDs) in nano-channel transistors4,5,6,7,8,9,10. Dopant atoms are also proposed as part of the basic unit of quantum computing11,12,13,14,15. For these fundamental applications, coupling of the dopants with each other is an essential factor for obtaining suitable functionalities. Therefore, it becomes critical to identify systems of a few dopant atoms and to control the inter-dopant coupling by external parameters.

The effect of vertical electric field on the control of the electron wave function within a system formed by the potential well of a single dopant atom and a nearby interface has been recently studied both experimentally and theoretically16,17,18,19,20. However, control of the potential well induced by two dopants at an interface has not yet been demonstrated since identification of such a system in experimental devices remains challenging. In this work, we identify pairs of donors in nano-transistor channels and report, for the first time, the merging of their potential wells at the interface under vertical electric field.

For this purpose, we fabricate and characterize transistors with ultrathin Si channels doped with phosphorus (P) donors. In one type of transistors, the channel was doped with lower doping concentration, for which pairs of donors can be found with high probability. We find that, under the application of a vertical electric field, potential wells induced by two neighboring donors can be merged at the interface, forming an interfacial double-donor molecule-like system. In another type of devices, the channel was selectively doped with higher doping concentration. For this case, we identify clusters of multiple P-donors strongly interacting with each other due to their physical proximity, without assistance of an interface.


Ultrathin-channel nano-transistors

A set of devices studied in this work are nano-channel silicon-on-insulator (SOI) MOSFETs, as illustrated in Fig. 1a. Channel length and width were modified as parameters in the ranges of 50–80 nm and 20–50 nm, respectively (details are described in Methods). Figure 1b shows a scanning electron microscope (SEM) image of the channel of one device with final width of ~40 nm and length of ~70 nm. The devices have an ultrathin Si channel (~5 nm), as observed from the cross-sectional transmission electron microscope (TEM) image shown in Fig. 1c. A 10-nm-thick SiO2 layer was thermally grown by dry oxidation as gate oxide, on top of which an Al frontgate was formed. The p-type Si substrate (boron-doped, NA ≈ 1 × 1016 cm−3) is used as a backgate through a 150-nm-thick buried oxide (BOX) layer. The frontgate and the backgate provide control of the electric field within the Si channel.

Figure 1
figure 1

Ultrathin silicon-on-insulator field-effect transistors.

(a) Schematic structure of an SOI-FET and its measurement setup. (b) A SEM image of a typical channel with dimensions below 100 nm. (c) TEM image of the channel taken across the channel width. (d) Schematic illustration of a possible arrangement of P-donors in a randomly, lower-concentration-doped channel. Under vertical electric field, potential wells can be formed at the interface. Neighboring potential wells may merge forming an interfacial double-donor molecule. (e) Schematic illustration of a possible distribution of P-donors in a selectively-doped higher-concentration channel. Clusters of several P-donors are located in the central region of the channel, strongly interacting to form multiple-donor QDs.

The top silicon layer was uniformly doped with P-donors by thermal diffusion from a spin-coated silica film containing P2O3. Doping concentration was estimated to be ND ≈ 1 × 1018 cm−3 from four-point probe measurements on reference samples. For this concentration, the average distance between neighboring P-donors is ~10 nm. Since the Bohr radius for P-donors in Si (rB) is ~2.5 nm, the P-donors can be considered as isolated from each other21.

Figure 1d schematically shows a possible distribution of P-donors in the channel of one such device. It is also illustrated how each donor induces a potential well at the Si/BOX interface under the application of vertical electric field Fz. The present study mainly focuses on the effect of such electric field on the potential well formed at the interface by a pair of neighboring P-donors.

We have also fabricated another type of SOI-MOSFETs in which the central region of the channel was selectively doped with higher concentration (ND > 1 × 1019 cm−3). For such high concentration, selective doping design is necessary to preserve tunnel barriers in the channel so that tunneling conduction can still be observed without the formation of a highly-conductive channel, like in the case of junctionless transistors. Figure 1e shows a larger number of P-donors in the central region of the channel, forming clusters of strongly-coupled P-donors. For realizing such selectively-doped profile, a 50-nm-wide slit was opened in a doping-mask oxide layer, ~80 nm away from source and drain leads. Lateral diffusion of dopants was suppressed by minimizing the thermal budget during the only subsequent thermal process for gate-oxide formation (see Methods). In these devices, differently from the FETs doped with lower concentration, molecular systems are formed by clusters of strongly-coupled P-donors physically located close to each other22, without assistance of an interface.

Effect of vertical electric field on low-temperature I-V characteristics

For several lower-concentration devices, source-drain current vs front gate voltage (IDS-VFG) characteristics were measured at low temperature (T = 5.5 K) with backgate voltage (VBG) as a parameter. In order to observe the effect of the electric field on transport through ground-states only, we map the current peaks only in the low-bias (low-VDS) region. At higher biases (higher VDS), more complex behavior is likely to be observed as transport could occur through multiple interactive dopants. Due to the random distribution of dopants, different behaviors are observed for different devices as a function of electric field. In this report, we present two significantly different cases among our observations. Figures 2a-2b show the IDS-VFG characteristics at VBG = 0 V for devices labeled A and B, respectively. Several isolated current peaks can be observed before the onset of higher current. These current peaks have irregular intensities (IDS) and do not exhibit any periodicity, which excludes the possibility of a single multiple-electron QD as their origin. The stability diagrams (plots of IDS in the VFG-VDS plane) for each device are also shown in Supplementary Fig. S1a and S1b. Differential conductance was also numerically extracted from this data and displayed as stability diagrams in Supplementary Fig. S1c and S1d. From these diagrams, Coulomb diamonds can be identified confirming that, at least for low-VDS, transport occurs by single-electron tunneling via a single QD, i.e., most likely the ground state of a donor. At higher VDS, more complex structures can be observed in the stability diagrams. Based on the quantitative analysis of these diagrams in the low-VDS region, we extracted typical parameters for each QD, such as the lever-arm factor, α and the lateral position along the channel. The results of this analysis are shown in Supplementary Table S1. According to these results, we can conclude that the most reasonable interpretation of our data is for each current peak to be ascribed to single-electron tunneling transport through different individual P-donors acting as QDs, as also described in other works7,8,16. The origin of the complex structures in the stability diagrams at high-VDS can be explained based on transport through multiple dopants. The dynamical modification of the potential profile in such multiple-dopant system with the variation in bias and gate voltages could change the equivalent circuit from a single, isolated dopant to interactive, multiple dopants with increasing bias voltage (VDS). Such modification of the potential profile in a multiple-dopant system has been recently reported based on the potential mapping of doped Si nano-channels by Kelvin probe force microscope (KPFM)23,24. The change of the transport path from single dopant in the low-VDS region to a multiple-dopant system in the high-VDS region can explain the occurrence of the complex features in the stability diagram at higher biases. Detailed explanations of the stability diagrams are presented in the Supplementary Information file in Fig. S2. However, in the core part of this work, we avoid such complex configurations by focusing the measurement and analysis in the low-VDS region only.

Figure 2
figure 2

Vertical electric field effect.

(a,b) IDSVFG characteristics (VDS = 2 mV and 5 mV, respectively; T = 5.5 K) measured for two different SOI-MOSFETs with channels randomly doped (ND ≈ 1 × 1018 cm−3). Noise level in these measurements in ~10 fA (shown as cut off level for the vertical axes). (c,d) Contour plots of IDS as a function of backgate voltage (VBG) and frontgate voltage (VFG) for devices A and B, respectively. Device A shows relatively smooth current traces, while device B shows sudden changes in the current peak positions at positive VBG. (e,f) Illustrations of the energy band diagrams and of the electron wave functions at electric fields corresponding to below and above the flatband condition. μSD is source-drain chemical potential.

For device A, three isolated peaks (labeled as P1–P3) can be observed in Fig. 2a at the lowest VFG’s (1.6 V, 1.63 V and 1.66 V, respectively). Higher-order current peaks appear near the onset of diffusion current for VFG > 1.7 V. Similarly, for device B, two isolated current peaks (labeled as P1 and P2) can be seen in Fig. 2b at the lowest VFG’s (1.55 V and 1.64 V, respectively), followed by more complex current peaks for VFG > 1.72 V. The isolated current peaks at the lowest VFG’s can be ascribed to single-electron tunneling via P-donors with deeper ground-state energies8. Current peaks appearing at higher VFG can be ascribed to P-donors with shallower ground states. In addition to the main current peaks, faint current traces can be observed, such as seen for device B in Fig. 2b on the left side of the main peak, P1. This faint trace is ascribed to tunneling transport through another P-donor energetically close to donor P1. The lower intensity of this current trace is most likely due to higher tunnel resistances for this satellite P-donor. These two donors are also likely located close to each other in the channel, forming an intriguing double-donor system that can be directly addressed by electrical measurements. We study the effect of a vertical electric field on the properties of this double-donor system working as a transport-QD for single-electron tunneling.

Vertical electric field can be changed by the two gate voltages, VFG and VBG. Contour plots of IDS as a function of VFG and VBG are plotted in Fig. 2c for device A and in Fig. 2d for device B. In these diagrams, current peaks appear as higher-contrast traces. For both devices, for VBG < 5 V each current peak only weakly depends on VBG. However, for VBG ≥ 5 V the current peaks depend more significantly on VBG. The transition point between these two regimes can be ascribed to the flatband voltage (VFB) for which the BOX-substrate junction changes from depletion into accumulation mode25. The slopes of these current traces in the VFG-VBG plane are dictated mainly by the relative coupling of the transport-QDs to the front gate and to the back gate (CFG and CBG, respectively). For thin Si channel, as in our devices (~5 nm), CFG and CBG are dominated by the thickness of the gate oxide and buried oxide only. Therefore, these current traces appear as almost parallel to each other in the VFG-VBG plane, even though the QDs have different positions in the channel (as suggested from the analysis of the different slopes of the diamonds in the stability diagrams, shown in the Supplementary Information). This type of behavior is commonly observed for all measured devices. Figures 2e-2f illustrate the band diagrams for VBG below and above the flatband voltage. Above flatband voltage, because backgate becomes more strongly coupled to the channel, an increase in VBG induces a considerable potential drop across the top Si layer and, implicitly, across donor-induced potential wells found in the channel.

Under the application of this vertical electric field, the electron wave function moves away from the donor site toward the back interface18,26. During this transition, the system will pass through a condition in which the electron wave function is hybridized between the donor and the interface. The electric field required for such a transition is usually called critical electric field (FC)19,27. If the donor is far from the interface, the required FC is relatively small and the transition occurs by a non-adiabatic tunneling process. On the other hand, if the donor is close to the interface, FC is larger and the transition process is adiabatic. For our measurements, the positive range of VBG covers a range of electric fields of 0-~50 mV/nm. Under such electric fields, transport is expected to occur via hybridized donor-interface QDs if the P-donors are close to the interface. This is the case of our devices that have an ultrathin Si channel (~5 nm), as seen in Fig. 1c. In such thin channels, the P-donors are naturally located relatively close to an interface. Figure 2f illustrates the case of large VBG, for which the electron wave function is extended in the system formed by the donor and the interface well.

For device A, the traces of the current peaks seen in Fig. 2c are smoothly changing as a function of VBG. However, for device B, some peculiar behavior is observed in Fig. 2d at higher positive values of VBG (marked by dashed circles). If we follow the first current peak (P1) up to VBG > ~8.0 V, it is possible to observe a new current trace suddenly appearing at lower VFG. At the same time, the upper current trace still appears to continue for a range of VBG. A similar observation can be made for the second current peak (P2) at VBG > ~10.0 V and for the third current peak (not marked) at VBG > ~8.0 V. The estimated electric field at which these current shifts appear is in the range of 20–40 mV/nm. This is the unique phenomenon that we observe in the present study and understanding its origin is the main focus of the following analysis.

The observation of a sudden shift of the current can be most likely ascribed to a sudden increase in the gate capacitance of the transport-QD. At lower VBG, the transport-QD consists of one P-donor’s potential well. However, as VBG is increased, the potential expands at the interface and in the lateral direction18 and, as a result, gate capacitance gradually increases. Since another neighboring P-donor also experiences a similar expansion, the potential wells of such two donors will suddenly merge at a critical VBG. This merged potential well, formed near the interface, will thus become the new transport-QD having a suddenly increased gate capacitance. The system can be treated from this point on as an interfacial double-donor molecule. This model will be treated in more details in the Discussion section by simulations of potential landscapes and Coulomb blockade transport. The Supplementary Fig. S3 shows an additional analysis of the correlation between the shift of the current trace to lower VFG and the increase of gate capacitance.

In order to evaluate the possibility of this occurrence, we first estimate the probability of formation of merged donor-induced wells with increasing vertical electric field. For that purpose, we consider that the radius of lateral confinement for the donor-induced well changes with the electric field as calculated in Ref. 18 by tight-binding simulations. The donor-induced wells are treated as having spherical symmetry for simplicity. Within this model, we calculate the probability of finding at least pairs of overlapped P-donor wells based on the formula given below28:

where N is the total number of donors in the channel, r is the radius of the lateral confinement of the donor-induced well and V is the volume of the channel. The total number of donor atoms in the channel is ~14, as calculated from channel dimensions (70 × 40 × 5 nm3) and average doping concentration (ND = 1 × 1018 cm−3). After calculating the above probability, we can evaluate the number of donor-wells distributed as isolated and as merged. For instance, assuming that all donor atoms are situated at distance 3.8 nm from the Si/BOX interface, this evaluation leads to the results shown in Fig. 3a. This figure shows that the number of merged donor-wells gradually increases with increasing electric field. At the same time, the number of isolated donor-wells gradually decreases. Systems of merged donor-wells can be further classified as a function of the number of P-donors that are coupled together within a distance smaller than 2rB from each other. We calculate the probability of finding systems containing 2, 3 and 4 merged P-donor wells assuming a Poisson distribution of the donors in the lateral plane29. The basic result is shown as an inset in Fig. 3a. This result suggests that, for electric field of approximately 20–40 mV/nm (marked as a green zone in the inset), donor-well pairs (double-donor molecule-like systems) can be found in the channel. At the same time, the chance of finding higher-order merging of multiple P-donor wells is negligible.

Figure 3
figure 3

Calculation of probability of donor-well merging.

(a,b) Number of isolated and merged dopant-induced wells calculated probabilistically as a function of electric field for two different distances of P-donors from the back interface: 3.8 nm [(a)] and 2.7 nm [(b)]. Insets: number of systems in the device channel containing 2, 3, or 4 merged P-donor wells assuming a Poisson distribution of the P-donors. The green zones correspond to the range of electric fields estimated for our experiment.

A similar probability calculation was also carried out for the case of P-donors situated at 2.7 nm from the Si/BOX interface. The results are presented in Fig. 3b. In this case, the probability of formation of merged P-donor wells is significantly reduced. The number of donor-well pairs is practically zero for the range of electric fields corresponding to our measurements, as shown in the inset of Fig. 3b. Therefore, for donors close to the Si/BOX interface, it is unlikely to observe merging of neighboring donor-wells within our experimental conditions.

Based on this probability calculation, it can be concluded that P-donors located closer to the front interface can readily merge their potential wells at the back interface as electric field is increased. On the other hand, if the donors are located closer to the back interface, there is a significantly lower probability to induce merging of their potential wells. This interpretation may be correlated with a specific P-donor arrangement in device B, which may be more favorable for the formation of the interfacial double-donor molecule system.

Figure 4a shows a zoomed-in VFG-VBG diagram within the positive-VBG region, focusing only on the two lowest-VFG prominent current peaks. As a way to emphasize the fine features, a second-order derivative of the current as a function of VFG is also presented in Fig. 4b. The faint current trace below the main peak becomes more prominent in Fig. 4b. As explained earlier, such fine trace can be ascribed to another P-donor located in the vicinity of the main transport donor. From both figures, it can be clearly observed that the current traces suddenly shift to lower VFG in a range of positive VBG. The regions in which these current shifts occur are marked by dashed rectangles.

Figure 4
figure 4

Transport characteristics for devices doped with lower and higher concentration.

Contour plots of IDS (top panels) and d2IDS/dVFG2 (bottom panels) as a function of backgate voltage (VBG) and frontgate voltage (VFG) for two types of devices: (a,b) randomly doped with lower doping concentration (ND ≈ 1 × 1018 cm−3); (c,d) selectively-doped with higher doping concentration (ND > 1 × 1019 cm−3). All data is measured at T = 5.5 K and VDS = 5 mV. Regions of current shifts are marked by dashed rectangles in (a,b). IDSVFG characteristics (VBG = 0 V) for the selectively-doped high-concentration FET are shown as a side panel in (c). In (d), within the complex pattern of fine traces, several anti-crossing structures are marked by dashed lines, suggesting interaction between two QDs. Zoom-in plots of two such regions [marked as (i) and (ii)] are presented in the right-side panels of (d).

More complex interactions are expected for devices with channels selectively-doped with higher concentration. An example for one such device is shown in Fig. 4c by the diagram of IDS in the VFG-VBG plane. IDS-VFG characteristics (VBG = 0 V) are also shown as the side panel of Fig. 4c. In these figures, current peak envelopes containing a sub-structure of fine features can be observed. These are ascribed to QDs formed by multiple P-donors in the center of the channel by the selective-doping technique. As demonstrated in our previous report22, such QDs exhibit a molecule-like behavior due to the strong interaction of multiple P-donors, without assistance of an interface. The fine features can be emphasized by plotting the second-order derivative of IDS as a function of VFG, as illustrated in Fig. 4d. Most importantly, within the complex pattern of traces, it is possible to identify several anti-crossing features as marked in Fig. 4d by dashed lines as eye guides. Several examples are shown also as zoom-in plots in the side panels of Fig. 4d. Such features are usually ascribed to sequential tunneling in systems of two QDs coupled with different strengths to different gates. As fundamental examples, simple anti-crossing features have been recently reported for pairs of acceptors30 or pairs of donors31,32 in Si-transistor channels. In our highly-doped devices, QDs formed by closely-spaced P-donors may interact with each other, giving rise to the observed anti-crossing features. Thus, the experimental observations for these devices illustrate the case of strong coupling of neighboring donors induced by a higher doping concentration. Inter-donor coupling cannot be easily controlled by the electric field in this type of devices.


The main experimental observations for device B with lower doping concentration are schematically summarized in Fig. 5a. The key finding is the sudden shift of the current peak to lower VFG as VBG is increased. As suggested earlier, this shift could be related to the merging of neighboring P-donor wells, a phenomenon which can occur with relatively high probability in the lower-concentration devices. Within this model, the electron wave function is first gradually shifted from the main transport-donor (P1) toward the interface and then it abruptly expands due to merging with a neighboring P-donor (P′1) well. This satellite donor is expected to be energetically and spatially close to the main transport-donor, but it gives rise to a lower-intensity current possibly because of higher tunnel resistances.

Figure 5
figure 5

Transport mechanism and Coulomb blockade simulation of merging donor-wells.

(a) Schematic representation of the evolution of one main current peak (P1) with increasing VBG. P′1 corresponds to a fine current trace due to a satellite neighboring P-donor. Insets: potential landscapes of a double-donor system (with donors located at 3.8 nm and 4.5 nm, respectively, from the back interface) for different vertical electric fields (Fz). Three different regimes are shown: (i) Fz = 0 mV/nm; (ii) Fz–low; (iii) Fz–high. (b) Equivalent circuit of two parallel-coupled donor-induced QDs. (c) Equivalent circuit of two parallel-coupled donor-well QDs with increasing gate capacitance due to the gradual expansion of the donor-wells at the interface. (d) Equivalent circuit of merged two-donor-well (forming a single QD with larger gate capacitance). (e) Simulated IDS plotted in the VFG-VBG plane, as obtained for the sequence of equivalent circuits shown in (bd).

The system can be illustrated by the electronic potential landscapes induced by the Coulomb potentials of such two P-donors. We consider a case of two donors situated at 3.8 nm and 4.5 nm away from the back interface and separated from each other in the y direction at 10 nm. The y-z cross-sectional potential landscapes for different electric fields are presented as insets in Fig. 5a for three different cases: (i) at zero electric field (Fz = 0) ; (ii) at low vertical electric field (Flow); (iii) at higher vertical electric field (Fhigh). For zero-field condition [(i)], the two donor-wells are significantly separated from each other. For a low vertical electric field [(ii)], the potentials of both donors expand towards the interface and slightly in the lateral direction18, but they still remain separated from each other. For a large enough electric field [(iii)], due to further lateral expansion, the two donor-induced wells merge with each other at the back interface. This situation, shown in the lower inset, corresponds to the formation of the interfacial double-donor molecule.

Other possible reasons for the appearance of the new current trace at lower VFG can be excluded. For instance, a current shift may be intuitively ascribed to trapping of a charge carrier into another P-donor or into an interface trap state. However, since the charge carriers are electrons, trapping of such a negative charge should shift the channel potential to higher values and VFG would shift to more positive values. This is inconsistent with the polarity of the experimentally observed shift (towards more negative VFG). An extended argument is introduced in Supplementary Fig. S4. Another possible model could be that the current shift is due to a sudden transition of the electron wave function from the donor to the interface by a tunneling mechanism. However, within the ultrathin Si channel of our devices, such transition is expected to occur most likely adiabatically, which would not induce any sudden changes in the current peak position. Hence, merging of two neighboring donor-wells remains as the most plausible model.

In order to theoretically explain the shift of the current peak to lower VFG when the donor-wells merge with each other, we study tunneling transport based on the Coulomb blockade theory33. Within this framework, merging of donor-wells leads to an increase in the QD area and, implicitly, in the gate capacitance of the resulting QD. As a consequence, the charging energy of the system is reduced. When the system has a reduced charging energy, the current peak is expected to appear at lower VFG.

For clarifying this point, we simulate the system of two donor-wells using a circuit of two parallel QDs, as schematically illustrated in Fig. 5b–d. Simulation details are given in Methods. The QD labeled as P1 works as main conduction path and is coupled to source and drain by tunnel junctions with capacitances CS1 and CD1, respectively. The satellite QD P′1 is coupled to source and drain via tunnel junctions with capacitances C′S1 and C′D1, respectively, but with higher tunnel resistances. The two QDs are coupled to the gates (frontgate and backgate) by non-tunnel capacitors with capacitances (CFG1; CBG1) and (C′FG1; C′BG1), respectively.

The simulation parameters are estimated based on the device geometry and the proposed model. In addition, since the donor-well gradually expands at the interface, its gate capacitance is also expected to gradually increase with increasing electric field. This behavior is also incorporated in the present simulation as a VBG-dependent gate capacitance of the QDs. With this phenomenological model, simulation was carried out by using the successive circuits shown in Fig. 5b–d. The simulated IDS is plotted in the VFGVBG plane in Fig. 5e. The circuit shown in Fig. 5b corresponds to the zero electric-field situation. For such condition, the current trace starts to become more strongly dependent on VBG. Figure 5c illustrates the increased gate capacitance due to the gradual expansion of the QD as VBG is increased. This occurs for VBG beyond the flatband voltage, as the electron wave function expands at the back interface. Finally, Fig. 5d illustrates the situation when the two QDs merge to form a single larger QD. This is the most important effect captured by this simulation because it corresponds to the merging of the two neighboring donor-induced potential wells at the interface. From the diagram in Fig. 5e, it can be observed that the current peak suddenly shifts to lower VFG. This shift, ascribed to the sudden reduction of the system’s charging energy, is consistent with our experimental observation.

Finally, it is expected that two electrons can be accommodated in such a double-donor QD, since each P-donor can accommodate only one electron, except at very low temperatures6,9,10. Thus, two current peaks should be observed as a function of VFG. Indeed, in Fig. 5e two current peaks can be reproduced for VBG larger than a critical value. These two current peaks correspond to the double-electron occupancy of the merged QD (PM). This can explain the two current traces experimentally observed and illustrated in Fig. 5a, overlapped for a range of VBG, as marked by a dotted rectangle. The higher-VFG trace appears practically in the continuation of the original single-donor-well trace. This suggests that the potential of the interfacial QD containing one electron is comparable with the potential of the original single-donor well. Based on these results shown in this section, it can be concluded that this Coulomb blockade simulation approach provides qualitative support for the interpretation of our experimental findings. Additional simulation data shown in the Supplementary Fig. S3 confirm the correlation between the shift of the current trace and the gate capacitance increase induced by merging of two single-donor-wells, with a good agreement with our experimental results.

In conclusion, we demonstrated experimentally that two donors in an ultrathin SOI-FET channel can merge their potential wells at an interface by applying vertical electric field. By monitoring the single-electron tunneling current, we observed a transition of the QD from a single-donor well to an interfacial double-donor molecule-like structure. This transition is observed as a sudden shift of the current peak to lower VFG due to a reduction in the charging energy of the merged interface well. This result can provide a pathway to control the electron wave function in systems of multiple P-donors connected via an interface, essential for a wide range of dopant-based applications.


Device fabrication and structure

Samples were fabricated from silicon-on-insulator (SOI) wafers, with a 150-nm-thick buried oxide (BOX) layer. All processes have been carried out in a clean room environment, using CMOS-compatible techniques. Initial SOI thickness was 55 nm, but it was thinned down by sacrificial oxidations and usual oxidation processes to a final thickness of ~5 nm (as measured by transmission electron microscope (TEM) images). Channel patterning was done using an electron-beam lithography (EBL) technique, with the channel width set as the main parameter (final channel widths are in the ~20–50 nm range) for uniformly doped low concentration devices. High quality gate oxide is formed by thermal oxidation process with an average thickness of ~10 nm for all devices. However, for the selectively-doped devices, gate oxide was formed by wet thermal oxidation (800 °C, 15 min) in order to minimize lateral thermal diffusion of dopants after selective doping. Standard Al metallization technique is adopted to make the gate, source and drain contacts. The p-type Si substrate (doped with boron (B), with concentration ~1 × 1016 cm−3) is used as a backgate.

Measurement setup for electrical characterization

Electrical characteristics were measured with Agilent 4156C and Agilent B1500A precision semiconductor parameter analyzers using a variable-temperature prober station. The samples were placed in a high-vacuum chamber for the I-V measurements, carried out mainly at low temperatures (~5.5 K). In all measurements, the source electrode was grounded and a small bias was applied to the drain electrode (typically, VD = 2–5 mV). The frontgate voltage (VFG) and backgate voltage (VBG) were swept as variable parameters.

Monte Carlo simulations

The theoretical IDS-VFG characteristics are calculated numerically using Monte Carlo simulation34, by ignoring co-tunneling effects, as a function of VBG. According to the orthodox theory of Coulomb blockade, forward and reverse tunneling rates of electrons across a junction are given by:

where e is an elemental charge and ΔE± is the change in total charging energy due to forward and reverse tunneling events. The temperature T is set to be 5.0 K for the present study, consistent with our experimental conditions. By considering a suitable range of tunneling parameters based on the experimental situation, IDS-VFG characteristics are simulated in the experimental range of positive VBG.

Additional Information

How to cite this article: Samanta, A. et al. Electric-field-assisted formation of an interfacial double-donor molecule in silicon nano-transistors. Sci. Rep. 5, 17377; doi: 10.1038/srep17377 (2015).