Defects in Titanium Aluminum Nitride-Based Thin Films

Abstract: Coatings and thin films inherently contain several types of defects. This thesis aims to enhance the understanding of the relationship of defects on the growth, structure, stability, and properties of titanium aluminum nitride films synthesized by physical vapor deposition techniques.Heteroepitaxial cubic and wurtzite films in the Ti-Al-N system grown by reactive magnetron sputtering were studied in relation to their defect structures. The dislocation structures of heteroepitaxial TiN and Ti1-xAlxNy films were analyzed by high-angle annular dark field scanning transmission electron microscopy (HAADF-STEM). Together with atomistic simulations, it was revealed that the presence of different dislocation types in TiN enhances the metal-metal bonds which locally weakens the directionally covalent metal-N bonds. In epitaxial cubic Ti1-xAlxN films, microstrain analysis shows that increasing N-vacancies influences the strain and compositional fluctuations in as-deposited states. During spinodal decomposition induced by annealing to high temperatures, the delay in coarsening and strain correlates with the amount of N vacancies. Detailed characterization of the decomposing domains exposed the formation of stacking faults and partial dislocations as a strain-relieving mechanism which also facilitates the known cubic-to-wurtzite transformation in Ti-Al-N.Cathodic arc deposited Ti1-xAlxN films were grown by applying a low duty cycle pulsed-substrate bias and high nitrogen pressures. This resulted into films with coarse grains and low lattice defects within them, indicating a kinetically controlled route to modify the defect structures in arc-deposited films. Applying the same technique on single crystalline TiN seed layer films kinetically stabilizes a pseudomorphic growth, allowing to form a highly textured, pseudo epitaxial wurtzite Ti1-xAlxN films by arc deposition. In combination with theoretical calculations, it was revealed that w-Ti1-xAlxN films also exhibit a miscibility gap which enables spinodal decomposition and thus age hardening when annealed. Finally, magnetron sputtered nitrogen-deficient w-Ti1-xAlxNy heteroepitaxial films were shown to exhibit a decomposition route that involves the formation of coherent intermediate MAX-like phases before transforming to pure c-TiN and w-AlN phases, which results to continued age hardening up to 1200°C.The findings in this work increase the fundamental understanding of the role of defects in Ti-Al-N films and open new routes for defect-based engineering strategies.

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