Directory:SiOnyx' Black Silicon by Mazur

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Page first featured October 17, 2008

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Almost ten years ago, graduate students in the laboratory of physics professor Eric Mazur at Harvard University stumbled across a new way of making silicon more responsive: they found that if they blasted the surface of a silicon wafer with an incredibly brief pulse of laser energy in the presence of gaseous sulfur and other dopants, the resulting material—which they called “black silicon”—was much better at absorbing photons and releasing electrons.

This "Black Silicon" is between 100 and 500 times more sensitive to light than standard silicon.

SiOnyx Inc. has licensed a portfolio of shallow junction photonics patents from Harvard University in exchange for an unspecified equity stake and downstream royalties. Black silicon is a material that absorbs nearly twice the visible light of regular silicon and detects infrared light that is normally invisible to silicon based devices. This capability that allows for performance enhancements in applications ranging from simple light detection to advanced digital imaging and solar energy.

Executives for the company, called SiOnyx, believe that its technology will help semiconductor manufacturers build far more sensitive detectors and far more efficient photovoltaic cells, using essentially the same silicon-based processes they currently depend on—thereby revolutionizing areas such as medical imaging and digital photography

Official Websites









About Group


Mazur Group, Harvard University - Irradiating a silicon surface with femtosecond laser pulses in the presence of a sulfur containing gas transforms the flat, mirror-like surface of a silicon wafer into a forest of microscopic spikes.

: In addition to near-unity absorption in the visible, the irradiated surface absorbs over 80 percent of infrared light for wavelengths as long as 2500 nm.

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| silicon microstructures as viewed under a scanning electron microscope || Black silicon surface viewed at high magnification


How it Works

"Black silicon addresses the fundamental pain point in all photonics systems, the sensitivity to light," said Stephen Saylor, SiOnyx president and CEO. "By demonstrating that the black silicon process cost effectively scales within the established semiconductor device manufacturing infrastructure, SiOnyx is poised to transform the $10B+ light detection, imaging and photovoltaic markets by offering device manufactures a path to smaller, lighter and more efficient photonic systems."

:“You’ve never been able to detect light the way this stuff detects light,” says Saylor, referring to black silicon’s remarkable sensitivity to incoming photons, especially photons at infrared energies, which pass through normal silicon as if it were transparent. That property could make it an ideal, and inexpensive, replacement for less-sensitive detectors in devices as varied as X-ray and CRT machines, surveillance satellites, night-vision goggles, and consumer digital cameras. “It means that you solve a clear and obvious pain point for a very large number of customers,” Saylor says.

Shallow junction photonics is a patented semiconductor process that exploits unique atomic level alterations that occur in materials irradiated by high intensity lasers.

The SiOnyx process employs a powerful, femto-second laser that exposes the target semiconductor to high intensity pulses as short as one billionth of a millionth of a second.

Crystalline materials subject to these intense localized energy events under go a transformative change, the atomic structure becomes instantaneously disordered and

new compounds are “locked in” as the substrate re-crystallizes. When applied to silicon, the result is a highly doped, optically opaque, shallow junction interface that is thousands of times more sensitive to light than conventional semiconductor materials.

Black silicon exhibits several unique physical characteristics that offer important advantages in photonic device architecture. The unique atomic configuration established in the SiOnyx process produces an thin film, broad spectrum detector that delivers astonishingly high response in comparison to typical semiconductor devices. These attributes enable SiOnyx to address critical design limitations found in prior device methodologies with innovative, cost effective architectures that minimize processing complexity and materials costs.


Photo Gallery


Comparable to current manufacturing processes for Silicon wafers.


The interaction of light with semiconductors is at the core of some of the most important innovations of our time. Nearly all imaging, communications, machine automation, solar energy, and chemical detection depend on photonic devices to transform light into electrical signal.

The most common material used in photonic systems is silicon. While silicon makes an excellent visible light detector it is useless in detecting other wavelengths commonly found in nature. In fact nearly 50% of the sun’s energy passes directly through silicon and cannot be detected or used for solar energy production. To overcome this limitation, engineers and scientists have exploited the unique opto-electronic characteristics of exotic materials such as indium gallium arsenide, lead and cadmium. While highly effective these materials are extremely toxic and expensive to produce.

For the first time in the history of photonics, SiOnyx is producing silicon devices that are competitive with these materials, environmentally safe and exhibit response that exceeds even the most advanced implementations of this legacy technology.


In point detection applications, higher sensitivity means better resolution at low light levels for everything from scientific instrumentation to radiological imaging to laser ranging/tracking. Broader spectral response will make SiOnyx’s shallow junction photonics the technology of choice for laser detection in the infrared waveband.

In imaging applications, larger photo response means smaller pixels, higher resolution, and better low light performance. Broad spectral response means turning your visible camera into a night vision scope.

Independent Testing

To be determined.


Silicon-based visible and near-infrared optoelectric devices - Publication number: US2005127401 Also published as: US7390689 (B2) US7057256 (B2) US2003029495 (A1) Inventor: MAZUR ERIC (US) CAREY JAMES E III (US) 2005-06-16 Applicant: HARVARD COLLEGE (US) Classification: - international: H01L31/00 H01L31/109 H01L31/00 H01L31/102 (IPC1-7): H01L31/109 - European: H01L31/0288 H01L31/0236 H01L31/052B H01L31/18C H01L31/18G2 H01L31/18G4

Abstract: In one aspect, the present invention provides a silicon photodetector having a surface layer that is doped with sulfur inclusions with an average concentration in a range of about 0.5 atom percent to about 1.5 atom percent. The surface layer forms a diode junction with an underlying portion of the substrate. A plurality of electrical contacts allow application of a reverse bias voltage to the junction in order to facilitate generation of an electrical signal, e.g., a photocurrent, in response to irradiation of the surface layer. The photodetector exhibits a responsivity greater than about 1 A/W for incident wavelengths in a range of about 250 nm to about 1050 nm, and a responsivity greater than about 0.1 A/W for longer wavelengths, e.g., up to about 3.5 microns.

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Method and apparatus for micromachining bulk transparent materials using localized heating by nonlinearly absorbed laser radiation, and devices fabricated thereby - Publication number: US2002162360 Inventor: SCHAFFER CHRIS (US) BRODEUR ANDRE (CA) GATTASS RAFAEL R (US) ASHCOM JONATHAN B (US) MAZUR ERIC (US) Publication date: 2002-11-07 Classification: - international: C03C23/00 G02B6/125 G02B6/13 G02B6/12 G02B6/36 C03C23/00 G02B6/125 G02B6/13 G02B6/12 G02B6/36 (IPC1-7): C03B37/018 C03B23/00 C03C25/00 G02B6/10 - European: C03C23/00B8 G02B6/125 G02B6/13

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Abstract : Thermal 3-D microstructuring of photonic structures is provided by depositing laser energy by non-linear absorption into a focal volume about each point of a substrate to be micromachined at a rate greater than the rate that it diffuses thereout to produce a point source of heat in a region of the bulk larger than the focal volume about each point that structurally alters the region of the bulk larger than the focal volume about each point, and by dragging the point source of heat thereby provided point-to-point along any linear and non-linear path to fabricate photonic structures in the bulk of the substrate. Exemplary optical waveguides and optical beamsplitters are thermally micromachined in 3-D in the bulk of a glass substrate. The total number of pulses incident to each point is controlled, either by varying the rate that the point source of heat is scanned point-to-point and/or by varying the repetition rate of the laser, to select the mode supported by the waveguide or beamsplitter to be micromachined. A wide range of passive and active optical and other devices may be thermally micromachined.

Femtosecond laser-induced formation of submicrometer spikes on a semiconductor substrate - Publication number: US2006079062 Inventor: MAZUR ERIC (US) SHEN MENGYAN (US) 2006-04-13 Classification: - international: H01L21/336 H01L21/02 - European: B23K26/12B H01L21/20C

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Abstract : The present invention generally provides semiconductor substrates having submicron-sized surface features generated by irradiating the surface with ultra short laser pulses. In one aspect, a method of processing a semiconductor substrate is disclosed that includes placing at least a portion of a surface of the substrate in contact with a fluid, and exposing that surface portion to one or more femtosecond pulses so as to modify the topography of that portion. The modification can include, e.g., generating a plurality of submicron-sized spikes in an upper layer of the surface.

MANUFACTURE OF SILICON-BASED DEVICES HAVING DISORDERED SULFUR-DOPED SURFACE LAYERS - Publication number: US2008044943 Inventor: MAZUR ERIC (US) CAREY JAMES E III (US) 2008-02-21 Also published as: US7354792 (B2) Classification: - international: H01L21/00 H01L21/00 - European: H01L31/0236 H01L31/0288 H01L31/18C H01L31/18G2

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Abstract : The present invention provides methods of fabricating a radiation-absorbing semiconductor wafer by irradiating at least one surface location of a silicon substrate, e.g., an n-doped crystalline silicon, by a plurality of temporally short laser pulses, e.g., femtosecond pulses, while exposing that location to a substance, e.g., SF6, having an electron-donating constituent so as to generate a substantially disordered surface layer (i.e., a microstructured layer) that incorporates a concentration of that electron-donating constituent, e.g., sulfur. The substrate is also annealed at an elevated temperature and for a duration selected to enhance the charge carrier density in the surface layer. For example, the substrate can be annealed at a temperature in a range of about 700 K to about 900 K.


Company: SiOnyx


SiOnyx recently raised $11 million in funding from Harris & Harris, Polaris Venture Partners and RedShift Ventures.

Inventors: Eric Mazur

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Dr. Eric Mazur, a professor of physics and applied physics at Harvard University. Mazur co-founded SiOnyx (Beverly, Mass.) in 2006. One of his graduatae students is the one who originally came up with the discovery.


In the News

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Latest: Directory:Solar > Directory:Black Silicon >Directory:SiOnyx' Black Silicon by Mazur - Black silicon is a material that is between 100 and 500 times more sensitive and absorbs nearly twice the visible light of regular silicon and detects infrared light that is normally invisible to silicon based devices. (PESWIki Oct. 16, 2008)

Black Silicon - SiOnyx is already commercializing sensor-based chips as a technology development platform for other companies and for use in next-generation infrared imaging systems. (Science Ahoy! Oct. 13, 2008)

Intuition + Money: An Aha Moment - (NY Times Oct. 12, 2008)

Image:Sionyx 95x95.jpg

Black Silicon - "Forcing sulfur atoms into silicon using femtosecond laser pulses creates a material called 'black silicon' that is 100 to 500 times more sensitive to light than conventional silicon, in both the visible and infrared spectrums, according to SiOnyx, a venture-funded Massachusetts start-up that just emerged from stealth mode. (Slashdot Oct. 12, 2008)

SiOnyx Brings “Black Silicon” into the Light Material Could Upend Solar, Imaging Industries - black silicon is just silicon that’s been roughed up a bit by femtosecond laser pulses and chemical treatment, SiOnyx’s technology could theoretically be integrated into existing semiconductor fabrication lines without much disruption. “You can do everything we’re talking about without extraordinary, Herculean effort, and you can do it in a way that fits with high-volume manufacturing flows,” says James Carey. (XConomy Oct. 12, 2008)

Other Coverage

Google > Mazur


See Talk:Directory:SiOnyx' Black Silicon by Mazur

SiOnyx Brings “Black Silicon” into the Light Material Could Upend Solar, Imaging Industries - Technorati Discussion.

Somewhat Overrated

On Oct. 16, 2008, a New Energy Congress person remarked:

"I know some of the players – somewhat overrated."


SiOnyx | | [ Contact

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