Conductivity in transparent oxide semiconductors

P. D. C. King, T. D. Veal

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

238 Citations (Scopus)


Despite an extensive research effort for over 60 years, an understanding of the origins of conductivity in wide band gap transparent conducting oxide (TCO) semiconductors remains elusive. While TCOs have already found widespread use in device applications requiring a transparent contact, there are currently enormous efforts to (i) increase the conductivity of existing materials, (ii) identify suitable alternatives, and (iii) attempt to gain semiconductor-engineering levels of control over their carrier density, essential for the incorporation of TCOs into a new generation of multifunctional transparent electronic devices. These efforts, however, are dependent on a microscopic identification of the defects and impurities leading to the high unintentional carrier densities present in these materials. Here, we review recent developments towards such an understanding. While oxygen vacancies are commonly assumed to be the source of the conductivity, there is increasing evidence that this is not a sufficient mechanism to explain the total measured carrier concentrations. In fact, many studies suggest that oxygen vacancies are deep, rather than shallow, donors, and their abundance in as-grown material is also debated. We discuss other potential contributions to the conductivity in TCOs, including other native defects, their complexes, and in particular hydrogen impurities. Convincing theoretical and experimental evidence is presented for the donor nature of hydrogen across a range of TCO materials, and while its stability and the role of interstitial versus substitutional species are still somewhat open questions, it is one of the leading contenders for yielding unintentional conductivity in TCOs. We also review recent work indicating that the surfaces of TCOs can support very high carrier densities, opposite to the case for conventional semiconductors. In thin-film materials/devices and, in particular, nanostructures, the surface can have a large impact on the total conductivity in TCOs. We discuss models that attempt to explain both the bulk and surface conductivity on the basis of bulk band structure features common across the TCOs, and compare these materials to other semiconductors. Finally, we briefly consider transparency in these materials, and its interplay with conductivity. Understanding this interplay, as well as the microscopic contenders for providing the conductivity of these materials, will prove essential to the future design and control of TCO semiconductors, and their implementation into novel multifunctional devices.

Original languageEnglish
Article number334214
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Physics: Condensed Matter
Issue number33
Publication statusPublished - 2 Aug 2011


  • Molecular-beam epitaxy
  • Hydrogen-doped in2o3
  • Zinc-oxide
  • Electronic-structure
  • N-type
  • Surface-states
  • Shallow donor
  • Thin-films
  • Photoemission-spectroscopy
  • Optical-properties


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