One-dimensional zinc oxide nanostructures have aroused interest from scientists and engineers for electron field emission applications because of their experimentally accessible high aspect ratio in combination with their low work function. A comprehensive study of the vapor-solid growth of zinc oxide (ZnO) nanowhiskers by utilizing zinc acetylacetonate hydrate and oxygen at low temperature (580 °C) is reported herein. The nanowhiskers morphology was investigated by varying different growth parameters, such as temperature, substrate type and position, gas flow, precursor amount, and growth time. According to the obtained parameter dependences, the process was optimized to achieve homogenous crystalline nanowhiskers with high aspect ratios and clearly defined surface facets and tips. We show electron field emission measurements from tailor-made ZnO nanowhiskers grown on n-doped silicon, titanium thin films, and free-standing silicon nitride membranes, revealing field emission turn-on fields significantly lower compared to a perfect flat ZnO thin film. Especially the latter devices—ZnO nanowhiskers on a free-standing membrane—might pave the way into a novel nanomembrane detector unit in proteomics, which can significantly extend the mass range of current time-of-flight mass spectrometers.
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