Organic semiconductors have unique properties compared to traditional inorganic materials such as amorphous or crystalline silicon. Some important advantages include their adaptability to low-temperature processing on flexible substrates, low cost, amenability to high-speed fabrication, and tunable electronic properties. These features are essential for a variety of next-generation electronic products, including low-power flexible displays, inexpensive radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, and printable sensors, among many other applications. Accordingly, the preparation of new materials based on π-conjugated organic molecules or polymers has been a central scientific and technological research focus over the past decade. Currently, p-channel (hole-transporting) materials are the leading class of organic semiconductors. In contrast, high-performance n-channel (electron-transporting) semiconductors are relatively rare, but they are of great significance for the development of plastic electronic devices such as organic field-effect transistors (OFETs).
In this Account, we highlight the advances our team has made toward realizing moderately and highly electron-deficient n-channel oligomers and polymers based on oligothiophene, arylenediimide, and (bis)indenofluorene skeletons. We have synthesized and characterized a “library” of structurally related semiconductors, and we have investigated detailed structure–property relationships through optical, electrochemical, thermal, microstructural (both single-crystal and thin-film), and electrical measurements. Our results reveal highly informative correlations between structural parameters at various length scales and charge transport properties.
We first discuss oligothiophenes functionalized with perfluoroalkyl and perfluoroarene substituents, which represent the initial examples of high-performance n-channel semiconductors developed in this project. The OFET characteristics of these compounds are presented with an emphasis on structure–property relationships. We then examine the synthesis and properties of carbonyl-functionalized oligomers, which constitute second-generation n-channel oligothiophenes, in both vacuum- and solution-processed FETs. These materials have high carrier mobilities and good air stability. In parallel, exceptionally electron-deficient cyano-functionalized arylenediimide derivatives are discussed as early examples of thermodynamically air-stable, high-performance n-channel semiconductors; they exhibit record electron mobilities of up to 0.64 cm2/V·s. Furthermore, we provide an overview of highly soluble ladder-type macromolecular semiconductors as OFET components, which combine ambient stability with solution processibility. A high electron mobility of 0.16 cm2/V·s is obtained under ambient conditions for solution-processed films.
Finally, examples of polymeric n-channel semiconductors with electron mobilities as high as 0.85 cm2/V·s are discussed; these constitute an important advance toward fully printed polymeric electronic circuitry. Density functional theory (DFT) computations reveal important trends in molecular physicochemical and semiconducting properties, which, when combined with experimental data, shed new light on molecular charge transport characteristics. Our data provide the basis for a fundamental understanding of charge transport in high-performance n-channel organic semiconductors. Moreover, our results provide a road map for developing functional, complementary organic circuitry, which requires combining p- and n-channel transistors.