skip to main content

SciTech ConnectSciTech Connect

Title: Fundamental Mechanisms of Roughening and Smoothing During Thin Film Deposition

In this research program, we have explored the fundamental limits for thin film deposition in both crystalline and amorphous (i.e. non-crystalline) materials systems. For vacuum-based physical deposition processes such as sputter deposition, the background gas pressure of the inert gas (usually argon) used as the process gas has been found to be a key variable. Both a roughness transition and stress transition as a function of pressure have been linked to a common mechanism involving collisions of energetic particles from the deposition source with the process inert gas. As energetic particles collide with gas molecules in the deposition process they lose their energy rapidly if the pressure (and background gas density) is above a critical value. Both roughness and stress limit important properties of thin films for applications. In the area of epitaxial growth we have also discovered a related effect; there is a critical pressure below which highly crystalline layers grow in a layer-by-layer mode. This effect is also though to be due to energetic particle thermalization and scattering. Several other important effects such as the observation of coalescence dominated growth has been observed. This mode can be likened to the behavior of two-dimensional water droplets on the hoodmore » of a car during a rain storm; as the droplets grow and touch each other they tend to coalesce rapidly into new larger circular puddles, and this process proceeds exponentially as larger puddles overtake smaller ones and also merge with other large puddles. This discovery will enable more accurate simulations and modeling of epitaxial growth processes. We have also observed that epitaxial films undergo a roughening transition as a function of thickness, which is attributed to strain induced by the crystalline lattice mismatch with the substrate crystal. In addition, we have studied another physical deposition process called pulsed laser deposition. It differs from sputter deposition due to the pulsed nature of the deposition where particles arrive at the growth surface in an interval of a few microseconds. We have observed effects such as transient formation of two dimensional islands on elemental crystalline surfaces. Pulsed deposition may also lead to non-equilibrium phases in some cases, such as the observation anomalously high tetragonality for ferroelectric thin films. All of the results described above feature in-situ synchrotron X-ray scattering as the main experimental method, which has become an indispensable technique for observing the kinetics of structures forming in real-time. We have also investigated in-situ coherent X-ray scattering and have developed methods to characterize temporal correlations that are not possible to observe with low-coherence X-rays. A high profile result of this work is a new technique to monitor defect propagation velocities in thin films. This has practical significance since defects limit the properties of thin films and it is desirable to understand their properties and origin in order to control them for practical applications. More broadly, amorphous thin films and multilayers have applications in optical devices, including mirrors and filters. Epitaxial thin films and multilayers have applications in electronic devices such as ferroelectric multilayers for non-volatile data storage, and thermoelectric nanostructures for energy conversion. Our progress in this project points the way for improved deposition methods and for improved simulation and modeling of thin film deposition processes for nanoscale control of materials with novel applications in these areas.« less
  1. Univ. of Vermont, Burlington, VT (United States)
Publication Date:
OSTI Identifier:
Report Number(s):
DOE Contract Number:
Resource Type:
Technical Report
Resource Relation:
Related Information: "Growth of an Ultra-thin Layered Structure Offers Surprises"
Research Org:
Univ. of Vermont, Burlington, VT (United States)
Sponsoring Org:
USDOE Office of Science (SC), Basic Energy Sciences (BES) (SC-22)
Contributing Orgs:
Boston Univ., MA (United States); Stony Brook Univ., NY (United States)
Country of Publication:
United States
36 MATERIALS SCIENCE thin film; x-ray; synchrotron; surface; interface; coherent x-ray; grazing incidence; sputter deposition; pulsed laser deposition; PLD; epitaxy; ferroelectric