- Nano Express
- Open Access
Simulations of silver-doped germanium-selenide glasses and their response to radiation
© Prasai and Drabold; licensee Springer. 2014
Received: 16 July 2014
Accepted: 10 October 2014
Published: 29 October 2014
Chalcogenide glasses doped with silver have many applications including their use as a novel radiation sensor. In this paper, we undertake the first atomistic simulation of radiation damage and healing in silver-doped Germanium-selenide glass. We jointly employ empirical potentials and ab initio methods to create and characterize new structural models and to show that they are in accord with many experimental observations. Next, we simulate a thermal spike and track the evolution of the radiation damage and its eventual healing by application of a simulated annealing process. The silver network is strongly affected by the rearrangements, and its connectivity (and thus contribution to the electrical conductivity) change rapidly in time. The electronic structure of the material after annealing is essentially identical to that of the initial structure.
Chalcogenide materials are among the most flexible and useful in current technology. Certain GeSbTe alloys are the basis of phase change memory technology  (now a credible alternative to conventional FLASH memory) and DVDs . Amorphous Se is the active element for digital x-ray radiography , and metal-doped chalcogenide glasses are among the best known solid electrolytes or ‘fast ion conductors’  and form the basis for another quite promising class of FLASH memory devices, ‘conducting bridge’ memory. The basic science of the material is just as interesting as the other phenomena such as the optomechanical effect  and photomelting . Recently, a new application has emerged: the use of chalcogenide glasses for the detection or sensing of radiation (a dosimeter) [7, 8]. The electrical conductivity is found to be well-correlated to radiation dose . With annealing, the damage is readily reversed so that the device may be reused. This important discovery is presently empirically understood, suggesting the need for theoretical research both to understand the basic process and to aid in optimizing the materials for future device application.
In this paper, we undertake the first simulation to understand the atomistics of the response of chalcogenide glasses to highly energetic events. Like many other challenging material problems, we find it helpful to use multiple methods, in this case both empirical potentials, and ab initio techniques. We also have taken advantage of the contributions of others, such as the use of an appropriate ‘heat bath’ to handle the excess thermal energy after the thermal spike . We detail the disordering process from a knock-on event to the subsequent recovery process. We show that the spike is indeed reversible upon annealing and discuss the electron states near the Fermi level - those responsible for the changes in (electronic) conduction after radiation exposure. The picture that emerges is that the electronic transport is significantly determined by the connectivity of the Ag subnetwork. Thus, if clusters percolate through the entire system, we have a network of nanowires that provide a low resistivity. As these nanowires break, form, or otherwise change, the carrier transport changes accordingly.
This paper is organized as follows. First, we discuss the formation of a suitable model of the material. Next, we track the damage wrought by a thermal spike and its healing. The electronic properties are discussed briefly and conclusions are provided at the end of the paper.
Simulations have been widely used to characterize amorphous materials and satisfactory ab initio models of GeSeAg glasses for various compositions have already been reported [11, 12]. Molecular dynamics (MD) simulation is a natural approach to simulate high-energy processes because MD offers detailed trajectories of the atoms as the system evolves after the radiation induced event. The pitfall of MD is that it is only as good as the force field used and it is as computationally costly as it is detailed. Furthermore, large models are needed to realistically simulate radiation events in any material and this greatly increases the computational cost.
Many simulations of radiation damage have been presented, with varying details and system sizes ranging from 446 to 2.3 million atoms; the following is a highly incomplete list [10, 13–15]. Early simulations applied many approximations like the binary collision approximation (BCA) , linear interactions [16, 17], and others to reduce the computational demand. Clever algorithms and parallel machines have enabled full simulations on large models . We used the potential of Iyetomi et al.  to model the interatomic attractions. This potential is simple in its form containing a Coulomb interaction term, charge-dipole interaction term, and a short range repulsion term, and yet commendable in its ability to predict wide range of properties of this material.
The primary model of a silver rich glass (with stoichiometry close to that used for a detector) was fabricated as follows. We used a cubic supercell containing 5,184 atoms with periodic boundary condition to represent bulk Ge 3Se9Ag4 (the cell had 984, 2,888, and 1,312 atoms of Ge, Se, and Ag, respectively). The model described in this work is obtained by using the melt-quenching method . Starting from a randomly placed collection of atoms, we performed 10 5 steps of MD with constant NVE. Then the atoms were given random velocities corresponding to a macroscopic temperature of 5,000 K and were allowed to equilibrate for another 10 5 steps. The system was then cooled to 1,200 K over 3.8 × 10 5 steps and equilibrated at 1,200 K for another 10 5 steps. The system was then cooled to 300 K over 0.75 × 10 5 steps and equilibrated at 300 K for 10 5 steps. Finally, the system was relaxed using a conjugate gradient algorithm. The MD simulations described in this work were performed using the classical molecular dynamics simulation package LAMMPS . A time step of 1 fs was used throughout, except when variable time steps were required.
Damage simulation using thermal spike
We carry out a thermal spike simulation using the model above. The damage inflicted on a material by high-energy radiation starts with a sudden transfer of kinetic energy from the incoming particle to an atom or a group of atoms that happen to suffer a collision with the incoming particle. For incident particles of energy in the range of MeV, the first interaction with the atoms on the target is entirely ballistic and the detailed role of interatomic potential between the impinging projectile and the target can be neglected. So, following Rubia et al. , we modeled the onset of radiation damage by igniting a thermal spike at the center of the supercell. We defined a sphere of radius 2.5 Å located at the center of the supercell, i.e., at d/2, d/2, and d/2, where d is the size of the cubic supercell to receive the thermal spike. For the particular configuration we modeled, this sphere contained two atoms. These two atoms were given an initial velocity consistent with 1 MeV of energy, and the rest of the atoms were assigned a velocity distribution associated with a temperature of 300 K. These conditions are thus intended to mimic a damage event at 300 K with the center two atoms representing the primary knock-on atoms (PKAs). The system was then allowed to evolve. For an isotropic material like GeSeAg and energy of PKA being as high as MeV, the direction of the initial velocity of the PKA should have no observable effect on the damage production.
Results and discussion
We performed ab initio calculation of the electronic densities of states (EDOS) of a 648-atom model prepared using the same empirical potential and the damaged snapshots of this model. The size of this model is a compromise between being large enough for damage production and being small enough for an ab initio calculation. Our calculations and reference  have confirmed that the 648-atom model is statistically similar to the 5184-atom model we discussed above. EDOS calculation is done using plane-wave basis code VASP -. Plane waves of up to 350 eV and PAW potentials were used ,.
Prasai and Drabold  have pointed that Se atom bonded with Ag atom contributes to widening the gap. Our work predicts that Se-Ag correlation is lost in the network as a result of radiation-induced damage. The details of the physics of these two separate observations are not fully understood yet.
We have not yet modeled the conductivity of the system. This is complicated by the existence of both ionic and electronic conductivities for some parts of the simulation. Realistic calculations are currently being formulated .
This paper is the first word on the atomistic processes underlying the fascinating experiments and device of Mitkova and coworkers ,. To fully realize the potential of our approach, many issues such as cell size, composition, details of the modeling of thermal spikes (and subsequent relaxation), and material composition must be explored. Observables like the transport and optical properties should be extracted at representative moments in the simulation. Nevertheless, this work reveals key aspects seen in the experiments including a remarkable reversibility upon annealing. We show that judicious use of the empirical potential of Iyetomi et al.  leads to a credible model of the dynamical processes and correctly reproduces many aspects of the material. Ab initio methods are an important tool to augment this work and to understand its limitations and the electronic and optical properties.
We thank Prof. Maria Mitkova for many discussions and motivating this work. We thank the Army Research Office for support under award W911NF1110358, and the Ohio Supercomputer Center for an allocation of computer time.
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