Nano Letters

Controlling Morphology in Polycrystalline Films by Nucleation and Growth from Metastable Nanocrystals

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Solution processing of polycrystalline compound semiconductor thin film using nanocrystals as a precursor is considered one of the most promising and economically viable routes for future large-area manufacturing. However, in polycrystalline compound semiconductor films such as Cu2ZnSnS4 (CZTS), grain size, and the respective grain boundaries play a key role in dictating the optoelectronic properties. Various strategies have been employed previously in tailoring the grain size and boundaries (such as ligand exchange) but most require postdeposition thermal annealing at high temperature in the presence of grain growth directing agents (selenium or sulfur vapor with/without Na, K, etc.) to enlarge the grains through sintering. Here, we show a different strategy of controlling grain size by tuning the kinetics of nucleation and the subsequent grain growth in CZTS nanocrystal thin films during a crystalline phase transition. We demonstrate that the activation energy for the phase transition can be varied by utilizing different shapes (spherical and nanorod) of nanocrystals with similar size, composition, and surface chemistry leading to different densities of nucleation sites and, thereby, different grain sizes in the films. Additionally, exchanging the native organic ligands for inorganic surface ligands changes the activation energy for the phase change and substantially changes the grain growth dynamics, while also compositionally modifying the resulting film. This combined approach of using nucleation and growth dynamics and surface chemistry enables us to tune the grain size of polycrystalline CZTS films and customize their electronic properties by compositional engineering.