News Release

Ultrathin vanadium oxychloride demonstrates strong optical anisotropic properties

Two-dimensional material could make novel strain sensors, photodetectors and other nanodevices a reality.

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Tsinghua University Press

2D vanadium oxychloride (VOCl) demonstrates orientationally dependent optical properties.

image: The unique optical characteristics of ultrathin vanadium oxychloride (VOCl) make the material an excellent candidate for use in nanotechnologies such as polarization-dependent electronics and optospintronics. view more 

Credit: Nano Research, Tsinghua University Press

The optical, electrical and mechanical properties of some materials change depending on the direction or orientation of the material.  Depending on how wood is cut, for example, the orientation of the wood grain can result in a stronger or weaker material with different appearances.  This same principal applies to ultrathin, two-dimensional (2D) materials with unique properties such as magnetism.  Depending on the direction of a mechanical strain placed on one of these materials, the magnetic properties of the material change. This may facilitate the design of unique magnetic strain sensors that can convert force into a measurable electrical change.  And while the anisotropy of the magnetic, mechanical, optical and other properties of these materials can, in theory, be predicted, the predictions must be supported or rejected based on empirical measurements to determine the true suitability of a material for a particular application.


A recent study led by scientists at Beihang University was designed specifically to experimentally assess the physical properties of ultrathin vanadium oxychloride (VOCl) because of its potential suitability for various nanotechnologies based on theoretical calculations. The research team systematically characterized the directionality of the optical properties of the 2D material in response to the arrangement of its atoms, using polarized light.  The findings are reported in the January 05, 2023 issue of Nano Research, published by Tsinghua University Press.  


The researchers synthesized bulk VOCl and mechanically separated the material into few-layer, nanometers-thick samples to assess the optical characteristics of 2D VOCl from different directions.  Once the team established the atomic microstructure and composition of the synthesized VOCl, experiments were performed by shining polarized light on 2D VOCl samples rotated at different angles.  The researchers determined how in-plane optical brightness, absorption, reflection, crystal orientation and symmetry of the ultrathin material changes due to its atomic structure and the angle of light directed at the sample.  


Together with ultrathin VOCl’s predicted magnetism, the optical anisotropic properties assessed during the study will help determine the suitability of 2D VOCl for use in future nanotechnologies.  


“These results lay a solid foundation for 2D VOCl in the applications of spintronics and optospintronics,” said Chengbao Jiang, professor at the School of Materials Science and Engineering at Beihang University and lead PI of the research team.  


Spintronics is an emerging technology that uses the spin of electrons to code information, speed data processing, increase circuit density and decrease energy consumption.  A newer branch of spintronics, called optospintronics, uses optics, or light, to either measure or control electron spin.  


“These optical anisotropic properties can be utilized to design novel functional devices, including photodetectors, linear-polarization light generators, strain sensors and artificial synapse devices,” said co-lead author Shengxue Yang of Beihang University.  


VOCl, which forms a crystal structure of vanadium, oxygen and chloride atoms, is only one of many materials that can be mechanically separated into ultrathin layers and demonstrate directionally and orientationally dependent physical characteristics.  Graphene, a single layer of carbon in a honeycomb structure, and black phosphorus, a material that is structurally similar to graphene but is instead composed of phosphorus atoms, have both been characterized for their strength and ability to conduct heat and electricity, with black phosphorus potentially serving as a replacement for more toxic graphene in biomedical applications.  


While the physical features of 2D materials are often theorized through predictive calculations, ultrathin materials must be characterized empirically to confirm their mechanical, optical, magnetic and other properties.  Experimental results often align with theoretical calculations and can be used to confirm both the quality and composition of the synthesized material.  With empirical confirmation of the ultrathin material’s physical properties, unique features can be leveraged for the emerging nanotechnology applications of the future, including quantum computing, force sensing and energy storage.


Other contributors include Tianle Zhang, Jiantao Du and Chengbao Jiang from the School of Materials Science and Engineering at Beihang University; Wenjun Wang from the Anhui Key Laboratory of Condensed Matter Physics at Extreme Conditions High Magnetic Field Laboratory at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and University of Science and Technology of China; Keming Wu and Xinfeng Liu from the CAS Key Laboratory of Standardization and Measurement for Nanotechnology, CAS Center for Excellence in Nanoscience, National Center for Nanoscience and Technology; Shuai Yue from the CAS Key Laboratory of Standardization and Measurement for Nanotechnology, CAS Center for Excellence in Nanoscience, National Center for Nanoscience and Technology and the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences; Wanfu Shen and Chunguang Hu from the State Key Laboratory of Precision Measuring Technology and Instruments, Tianjin University; and Minghui Wu from the College of Materials and Chemical Engineering and the Fujian Key Laboratory of Functional Marine Sensing Materials at MinJiang University.


The National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) Grant No. 51972007 supported this research.


The paper is also available on SciOpen ( by Tsinghua University Press.




About Nano Research 


Nano Research is a peer-reviewed, international and interdisciplinary research journal, publishes all aspects of nano science and technology, featured in rapid review and fast publishing, sponsored by Tsinghua University and the Chinese Chemical Society. It offers readers an attractive mix of authoritative and comprehensive reviews and original cutting-edge research papers. After 15 years of development, it has become one of the most influential academic journals in the nano field. In 2022 InCites Journal Citation Reports, Nano Research has an Impact Factor of 10.269 (9.136, 5 years), the total cites reached 29620, ranking first in China's international academic journals, and the number of highly cited papers reached 120, ranked among the top 2.8% of over 9000 academic journals.


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