Flow-Directed Crystallization for Printed Electronics

Ge Qu, Justin J. Kwok, Ying Diao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


ConspectusThe solution printability of organic semiconductors (OSCs) represents a distinct advantage for materials processing, enabling low-cost, high-throughput, and energy-efficient manufacturing with new form factors that are flexible, stretchable, and transparent. While the electronic performance of OSCs is not comparable to that of crystalline silicon, the solution processability of OSCs allows them to complement silicon by tackling challenging aspects for conventional photolithography, such as large-area electronics manufacturing. Despite this, controlling the highly nonequilibrium morphology evolution during OSC printing remains a challenge, hindering the achievement of high electronic device performance and the elucidation of structure-property relationships. Many elegant morphological control methodologies have been developed in recent years including molecular design and novel processing approaches, but few have utilized fluid flow to control morphology in OSC thin films.In this Account, we discuss flow-directed crystallization as an effective strategy for controlling the crystallization kinetics during printing of small molecule and polymer semiconductors. Introducing the concept of flow-directed crystallization to the field of printed electronics is inspired by recent advances in pharmaceutical manufacturing and flow processing of flexible-chain polymers. Although flow-induced crystallization is well studied in these areas, previous findings may not apply directly to the field of printed electronics where the molecular structures (i.e., rigid π-conjugated backbone decorated with flexible side chains) and the intermolecular interactions (i.e., π-π interactions, quadrupole interactions) of OSCs differ substantially from those of pharmaceuticals or flexible-chain polymers. Another critical difference is the important role of solvent evaporation in open systems, which defines the flow characteristics and determines the crystallization kinetics and pathways. In other words, flow-induced crystallization is intimately coupled with the mass transport processes driven by solvent evaporation during printing. In this Account, we will highlight these distinctions of flow-directed crystallization for printed electronics.In the context of solution printing of OSCs, the key issue that flow-directed crystallization addresses is the kinetics mismatch between crystallization and various transport processes during printing. We show that engineering fluid flows can tune the kinetics of OSC crystallization by expediting the nucleation and crystal growth processes, significantly enhancing thin film morphology and device performance. For small molecule semiconductors, nucleation can be enhanced and patterned by directing the evaporative flux via contact line engineering, and defective crystal growth can be alleviated by enhancing mass transport to yield significantly improved coherence length and reduced grain boundaries. For conjugated polymers, extensional and shear flow can expedite nucleation through flow-induced conformation change, facilitating the control of microphase separation, degree of crystallinity, domain alignment, and percolation. Although the nascent concept of flow-directed solution printing has not yet been widely adopted in the field of printed electronics, we anticipate that it can serve as a platform technology in the near future for improving device performance and for systematically tuning thin film morphology to construct structure-property relationships. From a fundamental perspective, it is imperative to develop a better understanding of the effects of fluid flow and mass transport on OSC crystallization as these processes are ubiquitous across all solution processing techniques and can critically impact charge transport properties.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2756-2764
Number of pages9
JournalAccounts of chemical research
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 20 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry


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