Spectral phonon scattering from sub-10 nm surface roughness wavelengths in metal-assisted chemically etched Si nanowires

Nano Lett. 2013 Apr 10;13(4):1564-71. doi: 10.1021/nl3047392. Epub 2013 Mar 11.


Frequency dependence in phonon surface scattering is a debated topic in fundamental phonon physics. Recent experiments and theory suggest such a phenomenon, but an independent agreement between the two remains elusive. We report low-temperature dependence of thermal conductivity in silicon nanowires fabricated using a two-step, metal-assisted chemical etch. By reducing etch rates down to 0.5 nm/s from the typical >100 nm/s, we report controllable roughening of nanowire surfaces and selectively focus on moderate roughness scales rather than the extreme scales investigated previously. This critically enables direct comparison with perturbation-based spectral scattering theory. Using experimentally characterized surface roughness, we show that a multiple scattering theory provides excellent agreement and explanation of the observed low-temperature dependence of rough surface nanowires. The theory does not employ any fitting parameters. A 5-10 nm roughness correlation length is typical in metal-assisted chemical etching and resonantly scatters dominant phonons in silicon, leading to the observed ~T(1.6-2.4) behavior. Our work provides fundamental and quantitative insight into spectral phonon scattering from rough surfaces. This advances applications of nanowires in thermoelectric energy conversion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Metals / chemistry
  • Nanowires / chemistry*
  • Particle Size
  • Phonons*
  • Silicon / chemistry*
  • Surface Properties
  • Thermal Conductivity


  • Metals
  • Silicon