Controlled growth of ordered monolayers of N-heterocyclic carbenes on silicon

Nat Chem. 2021 Sep;13(9):828-835. doi: 10.1038/s41557-021-00721-2. Epub 2021 Jun 21.


N-Heterocyclic carbenes (NHCs) are promising modifiers and anchors for surface functionalization and offer some advantages over thiol-based systems. Because of their strong binding affinity and high electron donation, NHCs can dramatically change the properties of the surfaces to which they are bonded. Highly ordered NHC monolayers have so far been limited to metal surfaces. Silicon, however, remains the element of choice in semiconductor devices and its modification is therefore of utmost importance for electronic industries. Here, a comprehensive study on the adsorption of NHCs on silicon is presented. We find covalently bound NHC molecules in an upright adsorption geometry and demonstrate the formation of highly ordered monolayers exhibiting good thermal stability and strong work function reductions. The structure and ordering of the monolayers is controlled by the substrate geometry and reactivity and in particular by the NHC side groups. These findings pave the way towards a tailor-made organic functionalization of silicon surfaces and, thanks to the high modularity of NHCs, new electronic and optoelectronic applications.