Alloying has served as a powerful means for tuning the non-vanishing optical bandgap of two-dimensional (2D) transition-metal dichalcogenides (TMDs), a family of 2D materials with optoelectronic properties covering a wide spectral window ranging from visible to near-infrared. In addition to the bandgap engineering, ‘spatial’ modulation of the composition ratio (i.e., x) in a ternary TMD alloy (e.g., MX2xX2(1-x)’; M: transition metal, X, X’: chalcogens) enables formation of lateral heterostructures with complex functionalities within the plane of 2D materials, a new asset that expands the realm of applications in which 2D materials can be incorporated. Despite several demonstrations of alloying in 2D TMDs, the phenomenologically important issue of strain development and its effect on the optical and structural properties of 2D TMD alloys is still missing.
Here, we show that alloying processes induce a biaxial tensile strain that acts on the lattice of 2D TMD alloys and affect their optical properties. In addition, we show that such strain inflicts sever fracture of the alloys via formation of sub-micron-sized cracks. Our experimental characterization combined with detailed theoretical modeling suggest the important role of the Van der Waals interaction between the 2D material and the substrate in formation of the alloying-induced strain. Furthermore, we demonstrate the critical role of crystal defects in cracking of the TMD alloys, which further emphasizes the importance of high quality synthesis of 2D TMD crystals for practical applications.