Semiconductor wires with nanometer widths have attracted much attention in recent years for their potential applications in mesoscopic research and nanodevices. Since the 1960s, Si whiskers grown from the vapor-liquid-solid (VLS) reaction have been extensively studied. In the VLS reaction, Au particles are generally used as the mediating solvent on a Si substrate since Au and Si form a molten alloy at a relatively low temperature. Si in the vapor phase diffuses into the liquid-alloy droplet and bonds to the solid Si at the liquid-solid interface, which results in the growth of Si whiskers. The diameter of the whisker is determined by the diameter of the liquid-alloy droplet at its tip. Si whiskers generally grow along ⟨111⟩ directions epitaxially on Si(111) substrates in the form of single crystals by the VLS reaction.
In different materials systems, however, a variety of whisker forms can be obtained. For example, GaP whiskers display rotational twins around their ⟨111⟩ growth axes, while GaAs whiskers grow in the form of the wurtzite structure.
Thus far, the synthesis of one-dimensional nanostructured materials on a large scale remains a challenge. In recent years, many efforts have been made to synthesize Si nanowires by employing different methods such as photolithography and etching techniques and scanning tunneling microscopy. One method of particular interest is a recently developed laser ablation of metal-containing semiconductor targets, by which bulk quantities of semiconductor nanowires can be readily obtained. Our recent studies show that oxides play a dominant role in the nucleation and growth of high-quality semiconductor nanowires in bulk quantities by laser ablation, thermal evaporation, or chemical vapor deposition. A new growth mechanism called oxide-assisted nanowire growth has therefore been established. The ability to synthesize large quantities of high-purity (no contamination), ultra-long (in millimeters), and uniform-sized semiconductor nanowires (a few nanometers to tens of nanometers in diameter) from this new technique offers exciting possibilities in fundamental and applied research.