Date of Award

Spring 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Engineering Physics

First Advisor

Dentcho A. Genov


The main objective of this dissertation is to investigate nano-structured random composite materials, which exhibit anomalous phenomena, such as the extraordinary enhancements of linear and non-linear optical processes due to excitation of collective electronic states, surface plasmons (SP). The main goal is to develop a time and memory efficient novel numerical method to study the properties of these random media in three dimensions (3D) by utilization of multi core processing and packages such as MPI for parallel execution. The developed numerical studies are then utilized to provide a comprehensive characterization and optimization of a surface plasmon enhanced solar cell (SPESC) and to serve as a test bed for enhanced bio and chemical sensing.

In this context, this thesis work develops an efficient and exact numerical algorithm here referred to as Block Elimination Method (BE) which provides the unique capability of modeling extremely large scale composite materials (with up to 1 million strongly interacting metal or dielectric particles). This capability is crucial in order to study the electromagnetic response of large scale inhomogeneous (fractal) films and bulk composites at critical concentrations (percolation). The developed numerical method is used to accurately estimate parameters that describe the composite materials, including the effective conductivity and correlation length scaling exponents, as well as density of states and localization length exponents at the band center. This works reveals, for a first time, a unique de-localization mechanism that plays an important role in the excitation of charge–density waves, i.e. surface plasmons (SP), in metal-dielectric composites. It also shows that in 3D metal-dielectric percolation systems the local fields distribution function for frequencies close to the single particle plasmon resonance is log-normal which is a signature of a metal-dielectric phase transition manifested in the optical response of the composites.

Based on the obtained numerical data a scaling theory for the higher order electric field moments is developed. A distinct evidence of singularities in the surface plasmon density of states and localization length is obtained, correlating with results previously obtained for two dimensional systems. This leads to the main finding of this work; i.e., the delocalization of surface plasmon states in percolating metal-dielectric composite materials is universally present regardless of the dimensionality of the problem.

This dissertation also proposes a new approach toward developing highly efficient inorganic/organic solar cell, by presenting a method for enhancement in the optical absorption and overall cell efficiency. Specifically, the approach improves the operation characteristics of inorganic semiconductor (e.g. Si and a-Si) and organic (P3HT:PCBM) thin film solar cells by integrating a thin, inhomogeneous, metal-dielectric composite (MDC) electrode at the interface between the transparent electrode and active layer. Through numerical simulations, we show that under solar illumination, surface plasmons are excited within the fractal MDC electrode across an extremely broad range of optical frequencies, trapping the incoming light and ensuring an optimal absorption into the active layer of the solar cells. An analytical model is developed to study the I-V characteristics of the cells, providing a pathway toward achieving optimal efficiency and better understanding of the behavior of charge carriers. Using this model, it is shown that including gold MDC electrodes can lead to an enhancement in solar cell power conversion efficiency up to 33% higher compared to the benchmark device.

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