Organic semiconductors are increasingly common in electronics and sensors, and are now under investigation for a novel type of radiation sensors at Sandia National Laboratories. This class of materials can offer wide band gaps, high resistivities, low dielectric constants, and high dielectric strengths, suggesting they may be suitable for solid-state particle counting detectors. A range of solution cast materials have been evaluated for this application, primarily in the family of poly(p-phenylene vinylene)s, or PPVs. The high ratio of hydrogen to carbon offers neutron sensitivity, while the low Z material provides some natural gamma discrimination. Compared to existing detectors, these materials could potentially offer large-scale radiation detection at a substantially reduced cost.
While PPVs hold promise for radiation detection, the mechanical and electrical properties must be optimized and the processing effects understood. Polymers can offer significantly simplified processing compared to the more common crystals used in solid state detection, which can be size limited and fragile. However, organic semiconductors are very sensitive to processing conditions, and mobility can be affected by orders of magnitude by processing variables, without altering any chemistry. Additives can also have dramatic effects on both electrical and mechanical properties. We report on nanoparticle additives that cause an increase in photoresponse of approximately three orders of magnitude as compared to a polymer film without additives. We separately show an order of magnitude increase in photoresponse by exposing the polymer/fullerene composite to sub-bandgap light.
Future work will analyze the feasibility of single particle detection and various geometries for optimization. Additional processing variables will also be investigated for further improvement of mobility and reduction of trap density.