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Investigation of Electronic Fluctuations in Semiconductor Materials and Devices through First-Principles Simulations and Experiments in Transistor Amplifiers


Choi, Alexander Youngsoo (2022) Investigation of Electronic Fluctuations in Semiconductor Materials and Devices through First-Principles Simulations and Experiments in Transistor Amplifiers. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/tba0-pd94.


Electronic noise, or stochasticity in the current, voltage, and frequency of a carrier signal is caused by microscopic fluctuations in the occupation of quantum electronic states. In the context of scientific instrumentation, understanding the physical origin of these fluctuations is of paramount importance since the associated stochasticity ultimately limits the fidelity of information transmitted through electronically processed-signals. The unifying theme of the work presented in this thesis is the study of electronic fluctuations in semiconductor materials and devices. Our interest in this topic is twofold. First, while the Nyquist law dictates the equivalence of noise and transport properties for systems in thermal equilibrium, this relationship breaks down for systems driven out of equilibrium by external forcing. Simulating non-equilibrium electronic fluctuations can therefore provide new insights into the microscopic processes that control energy and momentum relaxation which would not be available from conventional studies of transport alone. Furthermore, because noise properties are sensitive to the microscopic details of the bandstructure and scattering, ab initio simulations of noise observables provide a more rigorous test of the accepted theory of charge transport and carrier scattering in materials. Second, cryogenic low noise amplifiers based on high electron mobility transistors (HEMTs) are widely used in electromagnetic detector chains in applications such as radio astronomy, deep space communications, and quantum computing. The design and optimization of HEMT devices have conventionally relied upon empirical circuit-level models of fluctuations in devices. As the noise performance of modern low-noise amplifiers has saturated to levels five to ten times above the standard quantum limit, these empirical models are unable to resolve the microscopic origin of the limiting excess noise. Identifying the microscopic mechanisms underpinning noise in modern amplifiers is therefore necessary to produce better devices for scientific instrumentation. In this work, we investigate electronic noise in semiconductor materials and devices with a combination of first-principles simulations and Schottky thermometry experiments in transistor amplifiers.

First, we present our work on the development of novel parameter-free simulations of non-equilibrium noise in semiconductor materials. While the ab initio theory of low-field electronic transport properties such as carrier mobility is well-established, an equivalent treatment of electronic fluctuations about a non-equilibrium steady state has remained less explored. Starting from the Boltzmann Transport Equation, we develop an ab initio method for hot electron noise in semiconductors. In contrast with the typical numerical methods used for electronic noise such as Monte Carlo techniques, no adjustable parameters are required in the present formalism with the electronic band structure and scattering rates calculated from first-principles. Our formalism enables a parameter-free approach to probe the microscopic transport processes that give rise to electronic noise in semiconductors. Next, we apply the developed method to compute the spectral noise power in two materials of technological interest, GaAs and Si. In our first study in GaAs, we show that despite the well-known dominance of optical phonon scattering, the spectral features in AC transport properties and noise originate from a surprising quasi-elasticity in the scattering of warm electrons with the lattice. In our second study, we apply the method to Si which possesses a more complicated multivalley conduction band. This study demonstrates that the widely-accepted one-phonon scattering approximation is insufficient to reproduce the warm electron tensor and that incorporating second-order mechanisms, such as two-phonon scattering, may be critical to obtain an accurate description of noise in such materials.

Finally, we discuss our work on developing deeper understandings of electronic noise in real devices with a focus on transistor amplifiers. While the first-principles work described above is appropriate for evaluating noise in ideal materials, in real semiconductor devices, charge carriers are influenced by mechanisms such as defect scattering, size effects, and reflections at interfaces. Owing to the complexity of these mechanisms, HEMT noise is typically treated with empirical models, where the physical noise sources are reduced to fitting parameters. Existing models of HEMT noise, such as the Pospieszalski model, are unable to resolve the mechanisms that set the noise floor of modern transistor amplifiers. In particular, the magnitude of the contribution of thermal noise from the gate at cryogenic temperatures remains unclear owing to a lack of experimental measurements of thermal resistance under these conditions. We report measurements of gate junction temperature and thermal resistance in a HEMT at cryogenic and room temperatures using a Schottky thermometry method. Based on our findings, we develop a phonon radiation model of heat transfer in the device and estimate that the thermal noise from the gate is several times larger than previously assumed. Our work suggests that self-heating results in a practical lower limit for the microwave noise figure of HEMTs at cryogenic temperatures.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:electronic noise, electron-phonon interactions, low-noise amplifiers, self-heating, HEMTs
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Engineering and Applied Science
Major Option:Mechanical Engineering
Awards:Centennial Prize for the Best Thesis in Mechanical and Civil Engineering, 2022.
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Minnich, Austin J.
Thesis Committee:
  • Hunt, Melany L. (chair)
  • Blanquart, Guillaume
  • Readhead, Anthony C. S.
  • Minnich, Austin J.
Defense Date:10 December 2021
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Projects:Ab initio theory of non-equilibrium electronic fluctuations in semiconductor materials, Experimental characterization of thermal noise in HEMT amplifiers
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:12172021-224454947
Persistent URL:
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription adapted for Chapters 2 and 3. adapted for Chapter 4.
Choi, Alexander Youngsoo0000-0003-2006-168X
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:14453
Deposited By: Alexander Choi
Deposited On:05 Jan 2022 17:05
Last Modified:08 Nov 2023 00:34

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