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Photoluminescence in Analysis of Surfaces and Interfaces


  1. Timothy H. Gfroerer

Published Online: 15 SEP 2006

DOI: 10.1002/9780470027318.a2510

Encyclopedia of Analytical Chemistry

Encyclopedia of Analytical Chemistry

How to Cite

Gfroerer, T. H. 2006. Photoluminescence in Analysis of Surfaces and Interfaces. Encyclopedia of Analytical Chemistry. .

Author Information

  1. Davidson College, Davidson, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 SEP 2006


Photoluminescence (PL) is the spontaneous emission of light from a material under optical excitation. The excitation energy and intensity are chosen to probe different regions and excitation concentrations in the sample. PL investigations can be used to characterize a variety of material parameters. PL spectroscopy provides electrical (as opposed to mechanical) characterization, and it is a selective and extremely sensitive probe of discrete electronic states. Features of the emission spectrum can be used to identify surface, interface, and impurity levels and to gauge alloy disorder and interface roughness. The intensity of the PL signal provides information on the quality of surfaces and interfaces. Under pulsed excitation, the transient PLintensity yields the lifetime of nonequilibrium interface and bulk states. Variation of the PL intensity under an applied bias can be used to map the electric field at the surface of a sample. In addition, thermally activated processes cause changes in PL intensity with temperature.

PL analysis is nondestructive. Indeed, the technique requires very little sample manipulation or environmental control. Because the sample is excited optically, electrical contacts and junctions are unnecessary and high-resistivity materials pose no practical difficulty. In addition, time-resolved PL can be very fast, making it useful for characterizing the most rapid processes in a material. The fundamental limitation of PL analysis is its reliance on radiative events. Materials with poor radiative efficiency, such as low-quality indirect bandgap semiconductors, are difficult to study via ordinary PL. Similarly, identification of impurity and defect states depends on their optical activity. Although PL is a very sensitive probe of radiative levels, one must rely on secondary evidence to study states that couple weakly with light.