Genesis and Propagation of Fractal Structures during Photoelectrochemical Etching of n-Silicon

Matthias H. Richter, Michael Lublow, Kimberly M. Papadantonakis, Nathan S. Lewis, Hans Joachim Lewerenz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The genesis, propagation, and dimensions of fractal-etch patterns that form anodically on front- or back-illuminated n-Si(100) photoelectrodes in contact with 11.9 M NH4F (aqueous) have been investigated during either a linear potential sweep or a constant potential hold (E = +6.0 V versus Ag/AgCl). Optical images collected in situ during electrochemical experiments revealed the location and underlying mechanism of initiation and propagation of the structures on the surface. X-ray photoelectron spectroscopic (XPS) data collected for samples emersed from the electrolyte at varied times provided detailed information about the chemistry of the surface during fractal etching. The fractal structure was strongly influenced by the orientation of the crystalline Si sample. The etch patterns were initially generated at points along the circumference of bubbles that formed upon immersion of n-Si(100) samples in the electrolyte, most likely due to the electrochemical and electronic isolation of areas beneath bubbles. XPS data showed the presence of a tensile-stressed silicon surface throughout the etching process as well as the presence of SiOxFy on the surface. The two-dimensional fractal dimension, Df,2D, of the patterns increased with etching time to a maximum observed value of Df,2D = 1.82. Promotion of fractal etching near etch masks that electrochemically and electronically isolated areas of the photoelectrode surface enabled the selective placement of highly branched structures at desired locations on an electrode surface.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17018-17028
Number of pages11
JournalACS Applied Materials and Interfaces
Issue number14
Publication statusPublished - Apr 8 2020


  • fractal structures
  • photoelectrochemistry
  • photoelectron spectroscopy
  • silicon

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Materials Science(all)

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