Transition Metal Nitrides : Alloy Design and Surface Transport Properties using Ab-initio and Classical Computational Methods

Abstract: Enhanced toughness in brittle ceramic materials, such as transition metal nitrides (TMN), is achieved by optimizing the occupancy of shear-sensitive metallic electronic-states. This is the major result of my theoretical research, aimed to solve an inherent long-standing problem for hard ceramic protective coatings: brittleness. High hardness, in combination with high toughness, is thus one of the most desired mechanical/physical properties in modern coatings. A significant part of this PhD Thesis is dedicated to the density functional theory (DFT) calculations carried out to understand the electronic origins of ductility, and to predict novel TMN alloys with optimal hardness/toughness ratios. Importantly, one of the TMN alloys identified in my theoretical work has subsequently been synthesized in the laboratory and exhibits the predicted properties.The second part of this Thesis concerns molecular dynamics (MD) simulations of Ti, N, and TiNx adspecies diffusion on TiN surfaces, chosen as a model material, to provide unprecedented detail of critical atomic-scale transport processes, which dictate the growth modes of TMN thin films. Even the most advanced experimental techniques cannot provide sufficient information on the kinetics and dynamics of picosecond atomistic processes, which affect thin films nucleation and growth. Information on these phenomena would allow experimentalists to better understand the role of deposition conditions and fine tune thin films growth modes, to tailor coatings properties to the requirements of different applications. The MD simulations discussed in the second part of this PhD Thesis, predict that Ti adatoms and TiN2 admolecules are the most mobile species on TiN(001) terraces. Moreover, these adspecies are rapidly incorporated at island descending steps, and primarily contribute to layer-by-layer growth. In contrast, TiN3 tetramers are found to be essentially stationary on both TiN(001) terraces and islands, and thus constitute the critical nuclei for three-dimensional growth.