Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Engineering Physics (PhD)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Physics


John a. Jaszczak


Paul L. Bergstrom


The physics of the operation of singe-electron tunneling devices (SEDs) and singe-electron tunneling transistors (SETs), especially of those with multiple nanometer-sized islands, has remained poorly understood in spite of some intensive experimental and theoretical research. This computational study examines the current-voltage (IV) characteristics of multi-island single-electron devices using a newly developed multi-island transport simulator (MITS) that is based on semi-classical tunneling theory and kinetic Monte Carlo simulation. The dependence of device characteristics on physical device parameters is explored, and the physical mechanisms that lead to the Coulomb blockade (CB) and Coulomb staircase (CS) characteristics are proposed.

Simulations using MITS demonstrate that the overall IV characteristics in a device with a random distribution of islands are a result of a complex interplay among those factors that affect the tunneling rates that are fixed a priori (e.g. island sizes, island separations, temperature, gate bias, etc.), and the evolving charge state of the system, which changes as the source-drain bias (VSD) is changed. With increasing VSD, a multi-island device has to overcome multiple discrete energy barriers (up-steps) before it reaches the threshold voltage (Vth). Beyond Vth, current flow is rate-limited by slow junctions, which leads to the CS structures in the IV characteristic. Each step in the CS is characterized by a unique distribution of island charges with an associated distribution of tunneling probabilities.

MITS simulation studies done on one-dimensional (1D) disordered chains show that longer chains are better suited for switching applications as Vth increases with increasing chain length. They are also able to retain CS structures at higher temperatures better than shorter chains. In sufficiently disordered 2D systems, we demonstrate that there may exist a dominant conducting path (DCP) for conduction, which makes the 2D device behave as a quasi-1D device. The existence of a DCP is sensitive to the device structure, but is robust with respect to changes in temperature, gate bias, and VSD. A side gate in 1D and 2D systems can effectively control Vth. We argue that devices with smaller island sizes and narrower junctions may be better suited for practical applications, especially at room temperature.