Unravelling the physical mechanisms that determine microstructural evolution of ultrathin Volmer-Weber films
Journal of Applied Physics
The initial formation stages (i.e., island nucleation, island growth, and island coalescence) set characteristic length scales during growth of thin films from the vapor phase. They are, thus, decisive for morphological and microstructural features of films and nanostructures. Each of the initial formation stages has previously been wellinvestigated separately for the case of Volmer-Weber growth, but knowledge on how and to what extent each stage individually and all together affect the
... affect the microstructural evolution is still lacking. Here we address this question using growth of Ag on SiO 2 from pulsed vapor fluxes as a case study. By combining in situ growth monitoring, ex situ imaging and growth simulations we systematically study the growth evolution all the way from nucleation to formation of a continuous film and establish the effect of the vapor flux time domain on the scaling behaviour of characteristic growth transitions (elongation transition, percolation and continuous film formation). Our data reveal a pulsing frequency dependence for the characteristic film growth transitions, where the nominal transition thickness decreases with increasing pulsing frequency up to a certain value after which a steady-state behaviour is observed. The scaling behaviour is shown to result from differences in island sizes and densities, as dictated by the initial film formation stages. These differences are determined solely by the interplay between the characteristics of the vapor flux and time required for island coalescence to be completed. In particular, our data provide evidence that the steady-state scaling regime of the characteristic growth transitions is caused by island growth that hinders coalescence from being completed.