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Physics of transparent conductors


Akinoglu,  Eser Metin
Kolloidchemie, Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, Max Planck Society;

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Gao, J., Kempa, K., Giersig, M., Akinoglu, E. M., Han, B., & Li, R. (2016). Physics of transparent conductors. Advances in Physics, 65(6), 553-617. doi:10.1080/00018732.2016.1226804.

Transparent conductors (TCs) are materials, which are characterized by high transmission of light and simultaneously very high electrical DC conductivity. These materials play a crucial role, and made possible numerous applications in the fields of electro-optics, plasmonics, biosensing, medicine, and “green energy”. Modern applications, for example in the field of touchscreen and flexible displays, require that TCs are also mechanically strong and flexible. TC can be broadly classified into two categories: uniform and non-uniform TC. The uniform TC can be viewed as conventional metals (or electron plasmas) with plasma frequency located in the infrared frequency range (e.g. transparent conducting oxides), or ultra-thin metals with large plasma frequency (e.g. graphen). The physics of the nonuniform TC is much more complex, and could involve transmission enhancement due to refraction (including plasmonic), and exotic effects of electron transport, including percolation and fractal effects. This review ties the TC performance to the underlying physical phenomena. We begin with the theoretical basis for studying the various phenomena encountered in TC. Next, we consider the uniform TC, and discuss first the conventional conducting oxides (such as indium tin oxide), reviewing advantages and limitations of these classic uniform electron plasmas. Next, we discuss the potential of single- and multiple-layer graphene as uniform TC. In the part of the paper dealing with non-uniform metallic films, we begin with the review of random metallic networks. The transparency of these networks could be enhanced beyond the classical shading limit by the plasmonic refractive effects. The electrical conduction strongly depends on the network type, and we review first networks made of individual metallic nanowires, where conductivity depends on the inter-wire contact, and the percolation effects. Next, we review the uniform metallic film networks, which are free of the percolation effects and contact problems. In applications that require high-quality electric contact of a TC to an active substrate (such as LED or solar cells), the network performance can be optimized by employing a quasi-fractal structure of the network. We also consider the periodic metallic networks, where active plasmonic refraction leads to the phenomenon of the extraordinary optical transmission. We review the relevant literature on this topic, and demonstrate networks, which take advantage of this strategy (the bio-inspired leaf venation (LV) network, hybrid networks, etc.). Finally, we review “smart” TCs, with an added functionality, such as light interference, metamaterial effects, built-in semiconductors, and their junctions.