Transition metal oxide work functions: The influence of cation oxidation state and oxygen vacancies

Mark T. Greiner, Lily Chai, Michael G. Helander, Wing Man Tang, Zheng Hong Lu

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

553 Citations (Scopus)


Transition metal oxides are capable of a wide range of work functions. This quality allows them to be used in many applications that involve charge transfer with adsorbed molecules, for example as heterogeneous catalysts, as charge-injection layers in organic electronics, and as electrodes in fuel cells. Chemical and structural factors can alter transition-metal oxide work functions, often making their work functions difficult to control. Little is known about the effects of the cation oxidation state and point defects on the oxide work function. It is necessary to understand how such chemical and structural factors affect work functions in order to controllably tune transition metal oxides for desired applications. Here, a correlation between the oxide work function and cation oxidation state is demonstrated. This correlation is attributed to the change in cation electronegativity with oxidation state. A model is presented that relates the work function to the oxygen deficiency for d0oxides in the limit of dilute oxygen vacancies. It is proposed that the rapid initial decrease in work function, observed for d0oxides, is caused by an increase in the density of donor-like defect states. It is also shown that oxides tend to have decreased work functions near a metal/metal-oxide interface as a consequence of the relationship between defects and work function. These insights provide guidelines for tuning transition metal oxide work functions. The work functions of transition-metal oxides are correlated with the oxidation states of their metal cations. Due to the relationship between electronegativity and oxidation state, reduced oxides tend to have lower work functions. The trends revealed provide guidelines for tuning transition metal oxide work functions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4557-4568
Number of pages12
JournalAdvanced Functional Materials
Issue number21
Publication statusPublished - 7 Nov 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • metal oxides
  • oxidation states
  • work functions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
  • Biomaterials
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Electrochemistry

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