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Nonlinear photocurrents in two-dimensional systems based on graphene and boron nitride

Physical Review B, American Physical Society (APS), ISSN 1095-3795

Volume 94, 4, 2016

DOI:10.1103/physrevb.94.045434, Dimensions: pub.1060651417,



  1. (1) National University of Singapore, grid.4280.e
  2. (2) Aalborg University, grid.5117.2, AAU
  3. (3) Center for Nanostructured Graphene (CNG), DK-9220 Aalborg Øst, Denmark








The dc photoelectrical currents can be generated purely as a nonlinear effect in uniform media lacking inversion symmetry without the need for a material junction or bias voltages to drive it, in what is termed photogalvanic effect. These currents are strongly dependent on the polarization state of the radiation, as well as on topological properties of the underlying Fermi surface such as its Berry curvature. In order to study the intrinsic photogalvanic response of gapped graphene, biased bilayer graphene (BBG), and hexagonal boron nitride (hBN), we compute the nonlinear current using a perturbative expansion of the density matrix. This allows a microscopic description of the quadratic response to an electromagnetic field in these materials, which we analyze as a function of temperature and electron density. We find that the intrinsic response is robust across these systems and allows for currents in the range of pA cm/W to nA cm/W. At the independent-particle level, the response of hBN-based structures is significant only in the ultraviolet due to their sizable band gap. However, when Coulomb interactions are accounted for by explicit solution of the Bethe-Salpeter equation, we find that the photoconductivity is strongly modified by transitions involving exciton levels in the gap region, whose spectral weight dominates in the overall frequency range. Biased bilayers and gapped monolayers of graphene have a strong photoconductivity in the visible and infrared window, allowing for photocurrent densities of several nA cm/W. We further show that the richer electronic dispersion of BBG at low energies and the ability to change its band gap on demand allows a higher tunability of the photocurrent, including not only its magnitude but also, and significantly, its polarity.


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