Open Access Nano Express

Direct synthesis and characterization of optically transparent conformal zinc oxide nanocrystalline thin films by rapid thermal plasma CVD

Joachim D Pedersen, Heather J Esposito and Kwok Siong Teh*

Author Affiliations

School of Engineering, San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA, USA

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Nanoscale Research Letters 2011, 6:568  doi:10.1186/1556-276X-6-568

Published: 31 October 2011


We report a rapid, self-catalyzed, solid precursor-based thermal plasma chemical vapor deposition process for depositing a conformal, nonporous, and optically transparent nanocrystalline ZnO thin film at 130 Torr (0.17 atm). Pure solid zinc is inductively heated and melted, followed by ionization by thermal induction argon/oxygen plasma to produce conformal, nonporous nanocrystalline ZnO films at a growth rate of up to 50 nm/min on amorphous and crystalline substrates including Si (100), fused quartz, glass, muscovite, c- and a-plane sapphire (Al2O3), gold, titanium, and polyimide. X-ray diffraction indicates the grains of as-deposited ZnO to be highly textured, with the fastest growth occurring along the c-axis. The individual grains are observed to be faceted by (103) planes which are the slowest growth planes. ZnO nanocrystalline films of nominal thicknesses of 200 nm are deposited at substrate temperatures of 330°C and 160°C on metal/ceramic substrates and polymer substrates, respectively. In addition, 20-nm- and 200-nm-thick films are also deposited on quartz substrates for optical characterization. At optical spectra above 375 nm, the measured optical transmittance of a 200-nm-thick ZnO film is greater than 80%, while that of a 20-nm-thick film is close to 100%. For a 200-nm-thick ZnO film with an average grain size of 100 nm, a four-point probe measurement shows electrical conductivity of up to 910 S/m. Annealing of 200-nm-thick ZnO films in 300 sccm pure argon at temperatures ranging from 750°C to 950°C (at homologous temperatures between 0.46 and 0.54) alters the textures and morphologies of the thin film. Based on scanning electron microscope images, higher annealing temperatures appear to restructure the ZnO nanocrystalline films to form nanorods of ZnO due to a combination of grain boundary diffusion and bulk diffusion.

PACS: films and coatings, 81.15.-z; nanocrystalline materials, 81.07.Bc; II-VI semiconductors, 81.05.Dz.

zinc oxide; transparent nanocrystalline film; thermal plasma chemical vapor deposition; annealing; nanorods