Scientific Research Project Title

Versatile van der Waals heterostructures

Research Institution

Technical University of Denmark


Photonics, Materials Science


Phone: +45 4067 4519

Research leader

Stela Canulescu

Senior Scientist, PhD, born 1979

The aim of the project is to develop novel optoelectronic devices based on the atomically thin semiconductor materials.

What is your project about?

My project is about designing new kinds of artificial materials that could serve as a platform for many emerging optoelectronic devices, including ultimately thin and lightweight solar cells. These structures consist of combinations of atomically thin semiconductors, held together via weak van der Waals forces, hence the name of van der Waals heterostructures. By careful control of the order and composition of each layer within the heterostructure, the properties of each individual layer can be combined to produce materials and devices with radically new properties. In my project, I will develop a method for the fabrication of versatile van der Waals heterostructures that can offer opportunities beyond the reach of existing optoelectronic devices.

How did you become interested in your particular field of research?

My current activity at DTU is dedicated to research on thin-film solar cells. The general challenge of the scientific community is to design alternative materials that can replace the standard silicon solar cells. In this respect, I was inspired by the relatively newly discovered two-dimensional materials, which are the thinnest semiconductors known today, with exceptional absorption properties for a monolayer which is only 3 atoms thick. I do believe that these revolutionary materials are going to make the difference in many clean technologies and I am excited to get the opportunity to exploit this in this project.

What are the scientific challenges and perspectives in your project?

The manufacturing of van der Waals heterostructures is a great challenge today with the conventional synthesis approaches. Beside the technical challenge, it has been little studied how the properties of these heterostructures are altered from those of individual layers. In this project, I will develop a new method by which layered structures consisting of tens or even hundreds of alternating layers can be created. The joint effort of theory and experiment is thus crucial to elucidate the properties of structures not previously available. 

What is your estimate of the impact, which your project may have to society in the long term?

This study can open up new areas of technology based on novel types of optoelectronic devices, such as transistors, biosensors, light emitting diodes, photodetectors and solar cells. In the field of solar energy conversion, by using two layers of such atomic-thick semiconductors in a solar cell device can result in an efficiency of converting sunlight to usable energy of 1 to 2%. The efficiency of the solar cell devices can be increased up to 20 percent– the same as the current cutting edge in photovoltaic technology- for a structure that is only few tens of nanometer-thick. Their intelligent integration can lead to thinnest and lightest solar cells ever and enable a new clean way of bringing clean energy to people, also in applications where the weight matters, such as aviation technology and airspace.

Which impact do you expect the Sapere Aude programme will have on your career as a researcher?

The Sapere Aude program will give me the opportunity to pursue my own scientific ideas. Furthermore, it will enable me to build my own research team on experimental physics, and increase my visibility as a scientist at an international level. What I also find very exciting is to be able to work in a research field that I think it is fascinating and my ideas may make a difference. The grant will enable me to consolidate and broadens my network, and support the collaboration of my team with excellent scientists from Denmark and abroad. 

Background and personal life

I grew up in a green area reserved to a research campus near Pitesti, Romania. It is probably the beautiful childhood that I had that inspired me to explore the nature every single day. I moved to Bucharest at the age of 18 and 7 years later to Switzerland. After living in Switzerland for 6 years, I move to Denmark and started my family life here. My hobbies are my two wonderful children, Zora and Anton, with whom we travel as much as possible in our free time. In addition, I like practicing Yoga and cooking. 

High school
Ion Barbu Theoretical High School, Pitesti, Romania

City of current residence