Metal film growth on weakly-interacting substrates : Stochastic simulations and analytical modelling

Abstract: Thin films are nanoscale layers of material, with exotic properties useful in diverse areas, ranging from biomedicine to nanoelectronics and surface protection. Film properties are not only determined by their chemical composition, but also by their microstructure and roughness, features that depend crucially on the growth process due to the inherent out-of equilibrium nature of the film deposition techniques. This fact suggest that it is possible to control film growth, and in turn film properties, in a knowledge-based manner by tuning the deposition conditions. This requires a good understanding of the elementary film-forming processes, and the way by which they are affected by atomic-scale kinetics. The kinetic Monte Carlo (kMC) method is a simulation tool that can model film evolution over extended time scales, of the order of microseconds, and beyond, and thus constitutes a powerful complement to experimental research aiming to obtain an universal understanding of thin film formation and morphological evolution.In this work, kMC simulations, coupled with analytical modelling, are used to investigate the early stages of formation of metal films and nanostructures supported on weakly-interacting substrates. This starts with the formation and growth of faceted 3D islands, that relies first on facile adatom ascent at single-layer island steps and subsequently on facile adatom upward diffusion from the base to the top of the island across its facets. Interlayer mass transport is limited by the rate at which adatoms cross from the sidewall facets to the island top, a process that determines the final height of the islands and leads non-trivial growth dynamics, as increasing temperatures favour 3D growth as a result of the upward transport. These findings explain the high roughness observed experimentally in metallic films grown on weakly-interacting substrates at high temperatures.The second part of the study focus on the next logical step of film formation, when 3D islands come into contact and fuse into a single one, or coalesce. The research reveals that the faceted island structure governs the macroscopic process of coalescence as well as its dynamics, and that morphological changes depend on 2D nucleation on the II facets. In addition, deposition during coalescence is found to accelerate the process and modify its dynamics, by contributing to the nucleation of new facets.This study provides useful knowledge concerning metal growth on weakly-interacting substrates, and, in particular, identifies the key atomistic processes controlling the early stages of formation of thin films, which can be used to tailor deposition conditions in order to achieve films with unique properties and applications.

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