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Investigation of Transport Phenomena of Thermal Acoustic Excitations in Semi-Crystalline and Amorphous Materials Using Transient Grating Spectroscopy


Kim, Taeyong (2021) Investigation of Transport Phenomena of Thermal Acoustic Excitations in Semi-Crystalline and Amorphous Materials Using Transient Grating Spectroscopy. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/k364-ga14.


The physics of transport of heat-carrying atomic vibrations in amorphous and semi-crystalline solids is a topic of fundamental interest. Diverse tools have been employed to study thermal transport in these materials, including cryogenic thermal conductivity measurements and various inelastic scattering tools. However, unambiguously identifying the damping mechanisms of few THz and smaller frequency excitations remains difficult owing to the lack of the experimental probes in the frequency band. As a result, debate has remained regarding the microscopic origin of weak acoustic damping in amorphous silicon (Si), the unusually high thermal conductivity of ultra-drawn polyethylene, and other topics.

In this thesis, we investigate the transport properties of heat-carrying acoustic excitations in semi-crystalline and amorphous solids using transient grating spectroscopy. This optical method permits the creation of thermal gradients over sub-micron length scales which may be comparable to the attenuation lengths of the excitations. We show how these measurements can be used to constrain the damping mechanisms in the sub-THz range that has been historically inaccessible by typical methods such as inelastic scattering.

First, we report measurements of the bulk thermal conductivity and elastic properties of MoS₂ thin films. Specifically, we use TG to measure the in-plane longitudinal sound velocity and thermal conductivity. We do not observe any size effects of thermal conductivity with grating period, indicating that the propagating distance of heat-carrying acoustic phonons are smaller than the thermal length scale accessible in the experiment. This result is consistent with the mean free paths predicted from ab-initio numerical methods.

Second, we utilize the capability of TG to resolve the microscopic heat transport properties of phonons in highly oriented semi-crystalline polyethylene (PE). Earlier experimental studies have reported thermal conductivities of up to ~ 100 Wm⁻¹ K⁻¹ crystalline polyethylene, orders of magnitude larger than the bulk value of ~ 0.4 Wm⁻¹ K⁻¹. However, the microscopic origin of the high thermal conductivity remains unclear. We address this question by applying TG to highly oriented polyethylene to show that mean free paths on micron length scales are the dominant heat carriers. Using a low-energy anisotropic Debye model to interpret these data, we find evidence of one-dimensional phonon density of states for excitations of frequency less than ~ 2 THz. This transition frequency is consistent with the unique features of ultradrawn PE, in particular the stiff longitudinal branch leading to wavelengths of 8 nm at 2 THz frequency; and fiber diameters < 10 nm observed in prior structural studies of ultradrawn polymers; so that the wavelength does indeed exceed the fiber diameter at the relevant frequencies.

Finally, we report the measurements of the frequency-resolved mean free path of heat-carrying acoustic excitation in amorphous silicon (aSi), for the first time. The heat-carrying acoustic excitations of amorphous silicon are of interest because their mean free paths approach the micron scale at room temperature. Despite extensive investigation, the origin of the weak acoustic damping in the heat-carrying frequencies remains a topic of debate for decades. A prior study suggested a framework of classifying the vibrations into propagons, diffusons, and locons. Propagons were considered phonon-like, delocalized, propagating vibrations; locons as localized vibrations, and diffusons as delocalized yet non-propagating vibrations. Following the framework, numerous works have predicted mechanism of acoustic damping in aSi, but the predictions have contradicted to observations in experiments. In this work, we obtained measurements of the frequency-dependent mean free path in amorphous silicon thin films from ~0.1-3 THz and over temperatures from 60 - 315 K using picosecond acoustics (PSA) and transient grating spectroscopy. We first describe our PSA experiments to resolve the attenuation of 0.1 THz acoustic excitations in aSi. We then present our table-top approach to resolve MFP of heat-carrying acoustic excitation between ~ 0.1-3 using TG spectroscopy. The mean free paths are independent of temperature and exhibit a Rayleigh scattering trend over most of this frequency range. The observed trend is inconsistent with the predictions of numerical studies based on normal mode analysis, but agrees with diverse measurements on other glasses. The micron-scale MFPs in amorphous Si arise from the absence of Akhiezer and two-level system damping in the sub-THz frequencies, leading to heat-carrying acoustic excitations with room-temperature damping comparable to that of other glasses at cryogenic temperatures. Our results allow us to establish a clear picture for the origin of micron-scale damping in aSi by understanding vibrations as acoustic excitation rather than propagons, diffusons, and locons.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Thermal conductivity; nanoscale heat transport; low frequency phonon; TMDC; Molybdenum disulfide; polymers; polyethylene; amorphous materials; amorphous silicon; transient grating; heterodyne; picosecond sound attenuation; thin films; anisotropic; quasi-ballistic; mean free path spectroscopy
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Engineering and Applied Science
Major Option:Applied Physics
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Minnich, Austin J.
Thesis Committee:
  • Fultz, Brent T. (chair)
  • Faraon, Andrei
  • Vahala, Kerry J.
  • Minnich, Austin J.
Defense Date:27 August 2020
Funding AgencyGrant Number
2017 GIST-Caltech Research CollaborationUNSPECIFIED
Office of Naval Research (ONR)N00014-18-1-2101
2018 GIST-Caltech Research CollaborationUNSPECIFIED
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:10162020-115452109
Persistent URL:
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription adapted for Chapter 3. adapted for Chapter 5.
Kim, Taeyong0000-0003-2452-1065
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:13978
Deposited By: Taeyong Kim
Deposited On:22 Oct 2020 15:41
Last Modified:02 Nov 2021 16:53

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