Amorphous Metal Oxide Thin Films from Aqueous Precursors: New Routes to High-κ Dielectrics, Impact of Annealing Atmosphere Humidity, and Elucidation of Non-uniform Composition Profiles
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Metal oxide thin films serve as critical components in many modern technologies, including microelectronic devices. Industrial state-of-the-art production utilizes vapor-phase techniques to make high-quality (dense, smooth, uniform) thin film materials. However, vapor-phase techniques require large energy inputs and expensive equipment and precursors. Solution-phase routes to metal oxides have attracted great interest as cost-effective alternatives to vapor-phase methods and also offer the potential of large-area coverage, facile control of metal composition, and low-temperature processing. Solution deposition has previously been dominated by sol-gel routes, which utilize organic ligands, additives, and/or solvents. However, sol-gel films are often porous and contain residual carbon impurities, which can negatively impact device properties. All-inorganic aqueous routes produce dense, ultrasmooth films without carbon impurities, but the mechanisms involved in converting aqueous precursors to metal oxides are virtually unexplored. Understanding these mechanisms and the parameters that influence them is critical for widespread use of aqueous approaches to prepare microelectronic components. Additionally, understanding (and controlling) density and composition inhomogeneities is important for optimizing electronic properties. An overview of deposition approaches and the challenges facing aqueous routes are presented in Chapter I. A summary of thin film characterization techniques central to this work is given in Chapter II. This dissertation contributes to the field of solution-phase deposition by focusing on three areas. First, an all-inorganic aqueous route to high-κ metal oxide dielectrics is developed for two ternary systems. Chapters III and IV detail the film formation chemistry and film properties of lanthanum zirconium oxide (LZO) and zirconium aluminum oxide (ZAO), respectively. The functionality of these dielectrics as device components is also demonstrated. Second, the impact of steam annealing on the evolution of aqueous-derived films is reported. Chapter V demonstrates that steam annealing lowers processing temperatures by effectively reducing residual counterion content, improving film stability with respect to water absorption, and enhancing dielectric properties of LZO films. Third, density and composition inhomogeneities in aqueous-derived films are investigated. Chapters VI and VII examine density inhomogeneities in single- and multi-metal component thin films, respectively, and show that these density inhomogeneities are related to inhomogeneous metal component distributions. This dissertation includes previously published coauthored material.