Universal energy-level alignment of molecules on metal oxides

Nat Mater. 2011 Nov 6;11(1):76-81. doi: 10.1038/nmat3159.


Transition-metal oxides improve power conversion efficiencies in organic photovoltaics and are used as low-resistance contacts in organic light-emitting diodes and organic thin-film transistors. What makes metal oxides useful in these technologies is the fact that their chemical and electronic properties can be tuned to enable charge exchange with a wide variety of organic molecules. Although it is known that charge exchange relies on the alignment of donor and acceptor energy levels, the mechanism for level alignment remains under debate. Here, we conclusively establish the principle of energy alignment between oxides and molecules. We observe a universal energy-alignment trend for a set of transition-metal oxides--representing a broad diversity in electronic properties--with several organic semiconductors. The trend demonstrates that, despite the variance in their electronic properties, oxide energy alignment is governed by one driving force: electron-chemical-potential equilibration. Using a combination of simple thermodynamics, electrostatics and Fermi statistics we derive a mathematical relation that describes the alignment.