Templated dewetting: designing entirely self-organized platforms for photocatalysis
Formation and dispersion of metal nanoparticles on oxide surfaces in site-specific or even arrayed configuration are key in various technological processes such as catalysis, photonics, electrochemistry and for fabricating electrodes, sensors, memory devices, and magnetic, optical, and plasmonic platforms. A crucial aspect towards an efficient performance of many of these metal/metal oxide arrangements is a reliable fabrication approach. Since the early works on graphoepitaxy in the 70s, solid state dewetting of metal films on patterned surfaces has been much explored and regarded as a most effective tool to form defined arrays of ordered metal particles on a desired substrate. While templated dewetting has been studied in detail, particularly from a mechanistic perspective on lithographically patterned Si surfaces, the resulting outstanding potential of its applications on metal oxide semiconductors, such as titania, has received only limited attention. In this perspective we illustrate how dewetting and particularly templated dewetting can be used to fabricate highly efficient metal/TiO2 photocatalyst assemblies e.g. for green hydrogen evolution. A remarkable advantage is that the synthesis of such photocatalysts is completely based on self-ordering principles: anodic self-organized TiO2 nanotube arrays that self-align to a highest degree of hexagonal ordering are an ideal topographical substrate for a second self-ordering process, that is, templated-dewetting of sputter-deposited metal thin films. The controllable metal/semiconductor coupling delivers intriguing features and functionalities. We review concepts inherent to dewetting and particularly templated dewetting, and outline a series of effective tools that can be synergistically interlaced to reach fine control with nanoscopic precision over the resulting metal/TiO2 structures (in terms of e.g. high ordering, size distribution, site specific placement, alloy formation) to maximize their photocatalytic efficiency. These processes are easy to scale up and have a high throughput and great potential to be applied to fabricate not only (photo)catalytic materials but also a large palette of other functional nanostructured elements and devices.