A variety of metal oxide films (InGaOx, AlOx, “HafSOx”) prepared from aqueous solutions were found to have non-uniform electron density profiles using X-ray reflectivity. The inhomogeneity in HafSOx films (Hf(OH)4–2x−2y(O2)x(SO4)y·zH2O), which are currently under investigation as inorganic resists, were studied in more detail by high-angle annular dark-field scanning transmission electron microscopy (HAADF-STEM) and medium-energy ion scattering (MEIS).
The HAADF-STEM images show a greater concentration of heavy atoms near the surface of a single-layer film. MEIS data confirm the aggregation of Hf at the film surface. The denser “crust” layer in HafSOx films may directly impact patterning resolution.
More generally, the phenomenon of surface-layer inhomogeneity in solution-deposited films likely influences film properties and may have consequences in other thin-film systems under investigation as resists, dielectrics, and thin-film transistor components.