Unusual role of epilayer-substrate interactions in determining orientational relations in van der Waals epitaxy
Using selected-area low-energy electron diffraction analysis, we showed strict orientational alignment of monolayer hexagonal boron nitride (h-BN) crystallites with Cu(100) surface lattices of Cu foil substrates during atmospheric pressure chemical vapor deposition. In sharp contrast, the graphene-Cu(100) system is well-known to assume a wide range of rotations despite graphene's crystallographic similarity to h-BN. Our density functional theory calculations uncovered the origin of this surprising difference: The crystallite orientation is determined during nucleation by interactions between the cluster's edges and the substrate. Unlike the weaker B- and N-Cu interactions, strong C-Cu interactions rearrange surface Cu atoms, resulting in the aligned geometry not being a distinct minimum in total energy. The discovery made in this specific case runs counter to the conventional wisdom that strong epilayer-substrate interactions enhance orientational alignment in epitaxy and sheds light on the factors that determine orientational relation in van der Waals epitaxy of 2D materials.