Growth Mechanism of Transition Metal Dichalcogenide Monolayers: The Role of Self-Seeding Fullerene Nuclei

Due to their unique optoelectronic properties and potential for next generation devices, monolayer transition metal dichalcogenides (TMDs) have attracted a great deal of interest since the first observation of monolayer MoS2 a few years ago. While initially isolated in monolayer form by mechanical exfoliation, the field has evolved to more sophisticated methods capable of direct growth of large-area monolayer TMDs. Chemical vapor deposition (CVD) is the technique used most prominently throughout the literature and is based on the sulfurization of transition metal oxide precursors. CVD-grown monolayers exhibit excellent quality, and this process is widely used in studies ranging from the fundamental to the applied. However, little is known about the specifics of the nucleation and growth mechanisms occurring during the CVD process. In this study, we have investigated the nucleation centers or “seeds” from which monolayer TMDs typically grow. This was accomplished using aberration-corrected scanning transmission electron microscopy to analyze the structure and composition of the nuclei present in CVD-grown MoS2–MoSe2 alloys. We find that monolayer growth proceeds from nominally oxi-chalcogenide nanoparticles which act as heterogeneous nucleation sites for monolayer growth. The oxi-chalcogenide nanoparticles are typically encased in a fullerene-like shell made of the TMD. Using this information, we propose a step-by-step nucleation and growth mechanism for monolayer TMDs. Understanding this mechanism may pave the way for precise control over the synthesis of 2D materials, heterostructures, and related complexes.