Atomistic models of amorphous solids enable us to study properties that are difficult to address with experimental methods. We present a study of two amorphous semiconductors with a great technological importance, namely a- Si:H and a-SiN:H. We use first-principles density functional theory (DFT), i.e. the interatomic forces are derived from basic quantum mechanics, as only that provides accurate interactions between the atoms for a wide range of chemical environments (e.g. brought about by composition changes). This type of precision is necessary for obtaining the correct short range order. Our amorphous samples are prepared by a cooling from liquid approach. As DFT calculations are very demanding, typically only short simulations can be carried out. Therefore most studies suffer from a substantial amount of defects, making them less useful for modeling purposes. We varied the cooling rate during the thermalization process and found it has a considerable impact on the quality of the resulting structure. A rate of 0.02 K/fs proves to be sufficient to prepare realistic samples with low defect concentrations. To our knowledge these are the first calculations that are entirely based on first-principles and at the same time are able to produce defect-free samples. Because of the high computational load also the size of the systems has to remain modest. The samples of a-Si:H and a-SiN:H contain 72 and 110 atoms, respectively. To examine the convergence with cells size, we utilize a large cell of a-Si:H with a total of 243 atoms. As we obtain essentially the same structure as with the smaller sample, we conclude that the use of smaller cells is justified.
Although creating structures without any defects is important, on the other hand a small number of defects can give valuable information about the structure and electronic properties of defects in a-Si:H and a-SiN:H. In our samples we observe the presence of both the dangling bond (undercoordinated atom) and the floating bond (over-coordinated atom). We relate structural defects to electronic defect states within the band gap. In a-SiN:H the silicon-silicon bonds induce states at the valence and conduction band edges, thus decreasing the band gap energy. This finding is in agreement with measurements of the optical band gap, where increasing the nitrogen content increases the band gap.