American Chemical Society
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An Atomistic View of the Incipient Growth of Zinc Oxide Nanolayers

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journal contribution
posted on 2016-08-09, 00:00 authored by Manh Hung Chu, Liang Tian, Ahmad Chaker, Valentina Cantelli, Toufik Ouled, Raphaël Boichot, Alexandre Crisci, Sabine Lay, Marie-Ingrid Richard, Olivier Thomas, Jean-Luc Deschanvres, Hubert Renevier, Dillon D. Fong, Gianluca Ciatto
The growth of zinc oxide thin films by atomic layer deposition is believed to proceed through an embryonic step in which three-dimensional nanoislands form and then coalesce to trigger a layer-by-layer growth mode. This transient initial state is characterized by a poorly ordered atomic structure, which may be inaccessible by X-ray diffraction techniques. In this work, we apply X-ray absorption spectroscopy in situ to address the local structure of Zn after each atomic layer deposition cycle, using a custom-built reactor mounted at a synchrotron beamline, and we shed light on the atomistic mechanisms taking place during the first stages of the growth. We find that such mechanisms are surprisingly different for zinc oxide growth on amorphous (silica) and crystalline (sapphire) substrate. Ab initio simulations and quantitative data analysis allow the formulation of a comprehensive growth model, based on the different effects of surface atoms and grain boundaries in the nanoscale islands, and the consequent induced local disorder. From a comparison of these spectroscopy results with those from X-ray diffraction reported recently, we observe that the final structure of the zinc oxide nanolayers depends strongly on the mechanisms taking place during the initial stages of growth. The approach followed here for the case of zinc oxide will be of general interest for characterizing and optimizing the growth and properties of more complex nanostructures.