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SnSe2 Field-Effect Transistor with High On/Off Ratio and Polarity-Switchable Photoconductivity


SnSe2 field-effect transistor was fabricated based on exfoliated few-layered SnSe2 flake, and its electrical and photoelectric properties have been investigated in detail. With the help of a drop of de-ionized (DI) water, the SnSe2 FET can achieve an on/off ratio as high as ~ 104 within 1 V bias, which is ever extremely difficult for SnSe2 due to its ultrahigh carrier density (1018/cm3). Moreover, the subthreshold swing and mobility are both improved to  62 mV/decade and ~ 127 cm2 V−1 s−1 at 300 K, which results from the efficient screening by the liquid dielectric gate. Interestingly, the SnSe2 FET exhibits a gate bias-dependent photoconductivity, in which a competition between the carrier concentration and the mobility under illumination plays a key role in determining the polarity of photoconductivity.


Due to the quantum confinement effect, two-dimensional (2D) atomically layered materials (ALMs) behave very differently from their 3D bulk counterparts, exhibiting some unique and fascinating electronic, optical, chemical, magnetic, and thermal properties [1]. 2D ALMs provide an attracting platform for fundamental physical and chemical research at the limit of a single atom or few-layer thickness. Moreover, ALMs could be flexibly integrated with other devices, offering a bigger room or freedom to develop novel functions beyond the reach of the existing materials. Over the past decade, the 2D ALMs have been widely investigated and found potential applications in fields such as sensors, energy, and environment [2, 3].

Recently, as an important member of the IV-VI group, tin diselenide (SnSe2) has drawn much attention. SnSe2 has a hexagonal CdI2-type crystal structure, in which the Sn atoms are sandwiched by two layers of hexagonally packed Se atoms with space group \( \mathrm{p}\overline{3}\mathrm{m}1 \) [4]. Unlike transitional metal dichalcogenides (TMDs), SnSe2 possesses a narrower bandgap with indirect band gap characteristic within the entire thickness range from the bulk to the monolayer, resulting from outer p electrons of Sn involved in the structural bonding unlike d electrons of Mo or W in MoS2 or WS2 [5]. SnSe2 has been investigated to have excellent properties in thermoelectrics, phase change memory, lithium-ion batteries, and various electronic logic devices [4, 6,7,8,9]. Especially, SnSe2 has a higher electron affinity (5.2 eV) and therefore has a special application in fabricating tunneling field-effect transistors (FETs) [9,10,11]. Pan et al. systematically investigated FETs based on mechanically exfoliated SnS2 − xSex crystals with varying selenium content [12]. They found that the drain-source current (Id) cannot be completely turned off with the Se content reaching x = 1.2 or above. Later Su et al. have fabricated a SnSe2 MOSFET with high drive current (160 μA/μm) at 300 K with the same result of no “OFF” state [13]. The main reason for the difficulty in obtaining “OFF” state of SnSe2 FET device is the ultrahigh electron density (1018 cm−3 in bulk SnSe2, compared with 1016 cm−3 in MoS2) [14, 15]. Therefore, effective modulation of transport of carriers in SnSe2 FETs is a challenging job. Bao et al. successfully turned off Id and obtained an on/off ratio of 104 at room temperature when using HfO2 as a back gate combined with a top capping layer of polymer electrolyte. However, the performance of SnSe2 cannot survive several sweepings due to the irreversible structural transition caused by Li+ intercalation into the interlayer of SnSe2 [16]. Guo et al. achieved a higher current on/off ratio of 105 with a threshold voltage of − 100 V by thinning the SnSe2 flake to 6.6 nm [17]. However, the work temperature is only 78 K, which is not convenient for practical application. An alternative way to enhance the modulation of the transport of carriers in FETs is to deposit a high-k dielectric layer as a top gate, such as HfO2 and Al2O3 [18, 19]. However, the high deposition temperature will change the properties of SnSe2 layer and further deteriorate the device performance. Employing a solid polymer electrolyte gate to modulate the carrier density is an attractive method owing to the highly efficient control of the electric double layer (EDL) formed at the interface between the electrolyte and the semiconductor [20,21,22]. But sluggish ionic migration process requires low-bias sweeping rates to match. So, a simple, efficient, and practical method to modulate the carriers of SnSe2 is highly demanding.

In this work, we employed only a drop of de-ionized (DI) water as a solution top gate and successfully switched off the channel current at 300 K. Moreover the on/off ratio could reach ~ 4 orders controlled by a small gate voltage of less than 1 V. More strikingly, the SnSe2 device exhibits an interesting bias-dependent negative and positive photoconductivity, in which the possible working mechanism has been analyzed.


The SnSe2 flake was obtained from high-quality bulk crystals by mechanical exfoliation. Then, it was transferred onto a Si wafer covered with 100 nm SiO2. The detailed exfoliation and transfer method is described in Huang’s paper [23]. After the transfer, optical microscopy was used to identify selected flakes, and the accurate thickness was measured by atomic force microscopy. The SnSe2 FETs were fabricated by a standard photolithography. Ti/Au (5/50 nm) contact was deposited by thermal evaporator, followed by in situ annealing at 200 °C in high vacuum (10−5 Pa) to improve the metallic contact. For DI water top-gated FETs, an additional polymer layer (polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) type 950 A5) was deposited on the devices (spin coating at 3000 rpm, thickness 400 nm), baked at 180 °C for 2 mins, and patterned by UV photolithography to open windows for contact between the water drop and the device channel.

Electrical characterization was performed by a Keithley sourcemeter 2634B on a four-probe station (Signatone). A laser diode with a wavelength of 532 nm was employed as a light source with a power density of 1 mW/mm2 to examine the photoelectric performance of SnSe2 FET. The time response was recorded by an oscilloscope MDO3000.

Optical images were obtained using an optical microscope (XTZ-2030JX with a CCD camera). Raman spectrum was performed in the Renishaw in Via Raman Microscope at room temperature with 532-nm laser excitation. AFM characterization was taken by a microscope of Bruker Multimode 8.

Results and Discussion

Figure 1a shows a schematic diagram of SnSe2 FET device. The contacts are covered by a layer of PMMA (type 950 A5) to electrically isolate them from the top gate, which consists of a drop of DI water dripped from a pipette. The device can be gated by a top gate voltage (Vtg) applied to an electrode in contact with the DI water drop or by a back gate voltage (Vbg) applied via the SiO2 support. The optical image of SnSe2 flakes with patterned electrodes is shown in Fig. 1b. The source-drain gap is about 2 μm. Raman spectroscopy was used to characterize SnSe2 material, as shown in Fig. 1c. The fingerprint peaks at 187 cm−1 and 112 cm−1 corresponds to the out-of-plane A1g mode and in-plane Eg mode, respectively, which agrees well with others’ reports. However, it is difficult to determine the thickness for SnSe2 from the position of Raman peak. Unlike MoS2, the thickness-dependent characteristic of Raman peak position is not clear [24,25,26]. So, we adopted atomic force microscopy (AFM) to measure the flake thickness directly. As shown in Fig. 1d, the thickness of SnSe2 flake is about 34 nm.

Fig. 1
figure 1

An illustration of SnSe2 phototransistor device and some basic characterizations about the SnSe2 flake. a Schematic illustration of a SnSe2 field-effect transistor device. b Optical image of a SnSe2 flake with S and D denoting the source and drain electrodes under study, respectively. c Raman spectrum of a SnSe2 flake. d A height profile extracted from the black dotted line (shown in Fig. 1b) in AFM measurement

The output curve of the FET device under different back gate voltages measured in the dark is shown in Fig. 2a. The linear and symmetric relationship of Id-Vds demonstrates an ohmic contact between the Ti/Au electrodes and the SnSe2 channel. From Fig. 2a, we found that the modulation effect of the conductivity of SnSe2 by back gate voltage is very slight. The ratio of Id between gate voltage 30 and − 30 V is only 1.15 at Vds of 50 mV. The current Id at the back gate voltage of − 30 V is as large as ~ 1.47 μA at Vds of 5 mV, which could not be turned off by back gate voltage. Even increasing the large gate voltage up to 100 V still did not bring the channel into its off state as a result of screening of gated potential by the ultrahigh carriers density in the SnSe2, which has been reported in previous Pan’s and Su’s work [12, 13]. According to the semiconductor theory, we can make a rough estimation on the depletion width W of a metal-insulator-semiconductor (MIS) structure, which is determined by \( W={\left(\frac{2{\varepsilon}_r{\varepsilon}_0{\varphi}_s}{e{N}_D}\right)}^{1/2} \), where φs is the surface potential, ND the donor impurity concentration, and ε0 and εr vacuum and relative permittivity, respectively. Taking φs, εr, ND of 1 V, 9.97, and 1 × 1018/cm3 into the equation as a conservative calculation, the depletion width W is about 22 nm, which is much smaller than the thickness of our SnSe2 flake (34 nm). So, it is easy to understand no depletion of the electrons by the back gate modulation.

Fig. 2
figure 2

Output and transfer characteristic of SnSe2 FET measured in the dark. Id versus Vsd characteristic of SnSe2 FET gated at different back gating voltages Vbg (a), at different top gating voltages Vtg in a linear scale (b), and at different Vtg in a semi-log scale (c). Id versus Vtg characteristic of SnSe2 FET with Vsd ranging from 2 mV to 10 mV in steps of 2 mV drawn in a semi-log scale, the inset is a linearly-scaled plot of Id-Vtg characteristic (d)

In striking contrast, when using DI water as top gate, the Id-Vds curve exhibits an efficient modulation even with a small gate bias, as shown in Fig. 2b. The current ratio between gate voltages of 0.4 V and − 0.8 V is more than 103, which is more clearly seen from Fig. 2c drawn in a semi-log scale. The transfer curves about SnSe2 FET with top gate are shown in Fig. 2d, which shows a typical n-type conductive behavior. The voltage scans from the negative direction to the positive direction with a scanning rate of 10 mV/s. Electric double layer (EDL) in ionic liquid or solid electrolyte possesses a high capacitance and can be used to achieve a very efficient charge coupling in 2D and layered materials. However, slow charge transfer processes due to the large ions in size and mass require low-bias scan rates to maintain equilibrium at the gate-channel interface. In contrast, when using DI water as a dielectric layer, both the H+ and OH ions have smaller size and mass and water has a low viscosity. Therefore, DI water gating via the double layer at the water-semiconductor interface supports much higher voltage sweep rates and responds faster than ionic liquids gating or solid electrolyte gating. The inset is a linearly scaled plot of Id-Vtg characteristic. Notably, DI water as a top gate greatly enhances transconductance characteristics of the SnSe2 FET. As Vtg varies from − 0.8 to 0.4 V, Id changes from 9.5 × 10−11 to 7.6 × 10−7 A with an on/off current ratio of  104. The subthreshold swing calculated from the transfer characteristic is  62 mV/decade. These values are good enough for practical, low-voltage operation of layered metal chalcogenide FETs devices. The mobility μ can be calculated using the following equation: \( \mu =\frac{d{I}_d}{d{V}_g}\cdotp \frac{L}{W{C}_{H2O}{V}_{sd}} \), where L and W are the channel length and width (L = 2 μm, W = 5 μm), respectively, and CH2O is the DI water-gate capacitance per unit area. Here, the capacitance of CH2O was measured to be 348 nF/cm2, for which the detailed calculation is attached in the supplementary material (Additional file 1: Figure S1a and b). The obtained electron mobility is 127 cm2/Vs, which is quite good compared with other few-layered 2D materials. The substantially improved modulation effect realized by top gate with DI water as a dielectric layer has ever been reported in Huang’s work [27]. They applied DI water gate on the SnS2, MoS2, and BP flake and achieved a high on/off ratio, ideal subthreshold swing and excellent mobility. They attributed these improvements to perfectly shield the flake from the ambient adsorbates and passivation of the interface states by the high-k dielectric (εr(H2O) = 80). The passivation and screening effect provided by DI water is similar to that by other conventional high dielectric materials, like HfO2 or Al2O3 [18, 19]. In addition, the effective coupling between the DI water and the SnSe2 through the flake edges seems to play an important role in achieving a high on/off ratio even for a thick flake. Compared with SiO2 back gating, DI water gating can effectively reduce the electrical field distance (from few 100 nm to less than 1 nm), so the threshold gate voltage also decreased from several tens of volts to less than 1 V. From the inset image of Fig. 2d, the little current jump at about Vtg = 0.4 V is possibly caused by the electrolysis of DI water due to its narrow electrochemical window, which has been reported in Huang’s work [27].

The time-dependent photoelectric response of the SnSe2 FET controlled by back or top gating is shown in Fig. 3. Interestingly, the SnSe2 FET shows a positive photocurrent at a negative gating and a negative photocurrent at a positive gating regardless of gating from back gate via SiO2 or from top gate through DI water. From Fig. 3a, we can see the magnitude of photocurrent increases with increasing the negative back gate voltage. When the back gate voltage is − 80 V, the relative photoconductivity (defined as Δσ/σ0, where σ0 is the dark conductivity and Δσ is the difference between σ and σ0) is 5%. When using DI water as a top gate, we get a similar law as shown in Fig. 3b. With the top gate voltage setting as − 0.4 V, the relative photoconductivity could reach 6%. However, it is easily to see that the response time between the two kinds of gating is quite different. For back gating with SiO2 as dielectric, the response time for the rise edge is about 30 s. While for top gating with DI water as dielectric, the response time is only 1.7 s. Here, the 10–90% rise time (or 10–90% fall time) is defined as the response time. The much quicker response speed with DI water gating should be related to the higher carrier mobility (127 cm2/Vs) due to the effective screening of impurity or adsorbates scattering. Interestingly, when the gate voltage is positive, the SnSe2 film exhibits a negative photoconductivity (NPC) as shown in Fig. 3c and d. It should be emphasized that the gate-dependent bipolar photoconductivity is not induced by the leakage current between the gate and the source. We measured the leakage current of Ig when applying a positive or negative gate bias, as shown in Additional file 1: Figure S2. The sign of Ig follows the direction of Vgs and is just exactly contrary to the sign of drain-to-source photocurrent (Id). Moreover, the magnitude of Ig is much smaller than Id, so its impact can be ignored. In NPC of SnSe2 FET with H2O as dielectric, there are two features which are distinct from positive photoconductivity (PPC). One is the absolute value of the relative photoconductivity gating at positive Vtg (~ 20%) is eminently greater than that gating at negative Vtg (6%). The other is the SnSe2 FET exhibits a much longer response time (~ 30 s) at positive Vtg than that at negative Vtg (1.7 s).

Fig. 3
figure 3

Time dependence of the photoresponse of SnSe2 FET biased at Vsd = 5 mV when applied at different negative back gating voltages Vbg (a), negative top gating voltages Vtg (b), positive back gating voltages Vbg (c), and positive top gating voltages Vtg (d)

The negative photoconductivity (NPC) phenomenon has been reported in several semiconductor nanostructures, such as carbon nanotube, InAs nanowire, and ZnSe nanowire [28,29,30]. Oxygen molecular adsorption and photo-desorption are usually suggested to be responsible for NPC effect. However, such an explanation does not apply to our SnSe2 system, as oxygen desorption would only lead to higher electron concentration and conductivity. In order to understand NPC effect and the coexistence of NPC and PPC in SnSe2, we measured the Id-Vtg curves of SnSe2 FET under illumination, as shown in Fig. 4. For a clear comparison, the transfer curves in the dark are also added in. We can see the device exhibits a bipolar photoconductivity, which can be switched by gate voltage. The transfer curves measured under illumination and in the dark intersect almost at a gate voltage of 0 V. Therefore, the device shows a positive photoconductivity at a minus gate bias and a negative photoconductivity at a plus gate bias, which is in agreement with the results shown in Fig. 3. As is well known, the conductivity σ is determined as σ = neμ, where n, e, and μ are carrier concentration, electron charge, and mobility, respectively. So, the conductivity is determined by the product of carrier concentration and mobility. In transfer curve under light, the change of transconductance gm across the zero gate voltage implies an alteration of mobility. From the transfer curves, the mobility of illumination and dark can be calculated as shown in Tables 1 and 2. The mobility of SnSe2 in the dark is about 70 cm2/Vs, while the mobility under illumination has two values: about 60 cm2/Vs at minus gate bias and ~ 4 cm2/Vs at plus gate bias. At negative Vtg, the mobility of the light and dark state is almost the same, while the carrier concentration under light excitation is larger than that of dark state. So, the device exhibits a positive photoconductivity. At positive Vtg, the mobility is more than one order smaller than that in the case of negative Vtg, and the decrease in mobility exceeds the increase in carrier concentration and dominates the photoconductivity evolution. Thus, a net negative photoconductivity occurs in replace of the positive photoconductivity.

Fig. 4
figure 4

Id-Vtg characteristic of SnSe2 FET under illumination and in the dark

Table 1 The mobility of SnSe2 FET with top gating measured in the dark
Table 2 The mobility of SnSe2 FET with top gating measured under illumination

Pai-Chun Wei et al. found NPC effect in a small band gap and degenerate InN film and ascribed it to the depression of the mobility caused by severe scattering from the charged recombination centers [31], which may be applied to our SnSe2 system. But why the mobility decreases when the gating bias scans from the negative to the positive voltage is not clear. We believe this phenomenon originates from some in-gap states. The in-gap states can be caused by some point defects, such as Se vacancies. Under illumination, the in-gap states below Ef will trap some photogenerated holes and become positively charged scattering centers. With Vtg scanning from the negative to the positive bias, more in-gap states dropping below Ef become charged scattering centers, leading to a decline of mobility. Further work is needed to fully understand the mechanism of NPC.


In summary, SnSe2 field-effect transistor (FET) has been fabricated based on SnSe2 flake exfoliated from single crystal. With a drop of water as a top dielectric gate, we successfully turned off the device with a high current rejection ratio of ~ 104. Compared with SiO2 dielectric gate, the DI water can eminently improve the transport behavior of SnSe2 FET with an ideal subthreshold swing of  62 mV/decade and an excellent electron mobility of ~ 127 cm2 V−1 s−1 at 300 K. Especially, the SnSe2 FET exhibits bipolar photoconductivity when the top gate bias scans from − 0.4 to + 0.4 V. The polarity could be switched by the sign of gate voltage. At a negative gate bias, the positive photoconductivity is dominated by the increase in carrier concentration. While at a positive bias, the negative photoconductivity is caused by a sharp drop of mobility. A competition between the carrier concentration and the mobility determines the evolution of photoconductivity. With a facile solution gate method presented in this work, the SnSe2 FET demonstrates excellent electric properties and at the same time presents an interesting polarity-switchable photoconductivity, which will open up a new modulate way for high-performance optoelectronic devices.





Atomic force microscopy


Atomically layered materials




Field-effect transistors




Negative photoconductivity


Polymethyl methacrylate


Positive photoconductivity


Transitional metal dichalcogenides


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This work has been supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos. 11104255 and 11874405) and Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities.

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The datasets used in the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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XJ, HY, and XH initiated the research and analyzed the experimental data. XH, HY, HX, and DJY worked on the exfoliation, device fabrication, and characterization. XJ, HY, GC, HHY, DJJ, and LH discussed the experimental results. XJ wrote the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Jie Xing or Yuan Huang.

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Additional file

Additional file 1:

Supplementary material for details about calculation of capacitance with DI water as dielectric material and experimental results of leakage current measurements. Figure S1 (a) Id versus Vtg of SnSe2 FET biased at different Vbg. (b) Vbg versus Vtg derived from Id = 240 nA. The red line is a linear fit to the data. Figure S2 Leakage current Ig of SnSe2 FET gated at +Vtg (a) and at −Vtg (b). (DOCX 249 kb)

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Xu, H., Xing, J., Huang, Y. et al. SnSe2 Field-Effect Transistor with High On/Off Ratio and Polarity-Switchable Photoconductivity. Nanoscale Res Lett 14, 17 (2019).

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  • Field-effect transistor
  • SnSe2
  • Photoconductivity
  • On/off ratio