Exploring the energy landscape of the charge transport levels in organic semiconductors at the molecular scale

J. Cornil, S. Verlaak, N. Martinelli, A. Mityashin, Y. Olivier, T. Van Regemorter, G. D'Avino, L. Muccioli, C. Zannoni, F. Castet, D. Beljonne, P. Heremans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The extraordinary semiconducting properties of conjugated organic materials continue to attract attention across disciplines including materials science, engineering, chemistry, and physics, particularly with application to organic electronics. Such materials are used as active components in light-emitting diodes, field-effect transistors, or photovoltaic cells, as a substitute for (mostly Si-based) inorganic semiconducting materials. Many strategies developed for inorganic semiconductor device building (doping, p-n junctions, etc.) have been attempted, often successfully, with organics, even though the key electronic and photophysical properties of organic thin films are fundamentally different from those of their bulk inorganic counterparts.In particular, organic materials consist of individual units (molecules or conjugated segments) that are coupled by weak intermolecular forces. The flexibility of organic synthesis has allowed the development of more efficient opto-electronic devices including impressive improvements in quantum yields for charge generation in organic solar cells and in light emission in electroluminescent displays. Nonetheless, a number of fundamental questions regarding the working principles of these devices remain that preclude their full optimization.For example, the role of intermolecular interactions in driving the geometric and electronic structures of solid-state conjugated materials, though ubiquitous in organic electronic devices, has long been overlooked, especially when it comes to these interfaces with other (in)organic materials or metals. Because they are soft and in most cases disordered, conjugated organic materials support localized electrons or holes associated with local geometric distortions, also known as polarons, as primary charge carriers. The spatial localization of excess charges in organics together with low dielectric constant (ε) entails very large electrostatic effects. It is therefore not obvious how these strongly interacting electron-hole pairs can potentially escape from their Coulomb well, a process that is at the heart of photoconversion or molecular doping. Yet they do, with near-quantitative yield in some cases. Limited screening by the low dielectric medium in organic materials leads to subtle static and dynamic electronic polarization effects that strongly impact the energy landscape for charges, which offers a rationale for this apparent inconsistency.In this Account, we use different theoretical approaches to predict the energy landscape of charge carriers at the molecular level and review a few case studies highlighting the role of electrostatic interactions in conjugated organic molecules. We describe the pros and cons of different theoretical approaches that provide access to the energy landscape defining the motion of charge carriers. We illustrate the applications of these approaches through selected examples involving OFETs, OLEDs, and solar cells. The three selected examples collectively show that energetic disorder governs device performances and highlights the relevance of theoretical tools to probe energy landscapes in molecular assemblies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)434-443
Number of pages10
JournalAccounts of chemical research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 19 Feb 2013
Externally publishedYes


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