The Thin Films and Interfaces Group
Thin films are nowadays utilized in many applications, ranging from semiconductor devices to optical coatings and are even present in pharmaceuticals (polymers). This wide-spread application of films with thicknesses from atomic monolayers to microns is due to the developments of thin film deposition techniques. Thin films are also important for studies of materials with new and unique properties due to the possibility of tuning their crystallographic and morphological properties. The thin film approach, i.e. the presence of interfaces (to a substrate or the film surface) adds more degrees of freedom for influencing the properties of materials, e.g. by lattice strain or surface functionalization. For these fundamental studies of material properties large research facilities such as synchrotron radiation or neutron spallation sources are one of the keys that the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) provides. Read more
A practical guide to pulsed laser deposition
Nanoscale thin films are widely implemented across a plethora of technological and scientific areas, and form the basis for many advancements that have driven human progress, owing to the high degree of functional tunability based on the chemical composition. Pulsed laser deposition is one of the multiple physical vapour deposition routes to fabricate thin films, employing laser energy to eject material from a target in the form of a plasma. A substrate, commonly a single-crystal oxide, is placed in the path of the plume and acts as a template for the arriving species from the target to coalesce and self-assemble into a thin film. This technique is tremendously useful to produce crystalline films, due to the wide range of atmospheric conditions and the extent of possible chemical complexity of the target. However, this flexibility results in a high degree of complexity, oftentimes requiring rigorous optimisation of the growth parameters to achieve high quality crystalline films with desired composition. In this tutorial review, we aim to reduce the complexity and the barrier to entry for the controlled growth of complex oxides by pulsed laser deposition. We present an overview of the fundamental and practical aspects of pulsed laser deposition, discuss the consequences of tailoring the growth parameters on the thin film properties, and describe in situ monitoring techniques that are useful in gaining a deeper understanding of the properties of the resultant films. Particular emphasis is placed on the general relationships between the growth parameters and the consequent structural, chemical and functional properties of the thin films. In the final section, we discuss the open questions within the field and possible directions to further expand the utility of pulsed laser deposition.
Momentum-resolved electronic structure of LaTiO2N photocatalysts by resonant Soft-X-ray ARPES
Oxynitrides are promising materials for visible light-driven water splitting. However, limited information regarding their electron-momentum resolved electronic structure exists. Here, with the advantage of the enhanced probing depth and chemical state specificity of soft-X-ray ARPES, we determine the electronic structure of the photocatalyst oxynitride LaTiO2N and monitor its evolution as a consequence of the oxygen evolution reaction. After the photoelectrochemical reactions, we observe a partial loss of Ti- and La-N 2p states, distortions surrounding the local environment of titanium atoms and, unexpectedly, an indication of an electron accumulation layer at or near the surface, which may be connected with either a large density of metallic surface states or downward band bending. The distortions and defects associated with the titanium 3d states lead to the trapping of electrons and charge recombination, which is a major limitation for the oxynitride LaTiO2N. The presence of an accumulation layer and its evolution suggests complex mechanisms of the photoelectrochemical reaction, especially in cases where co-catalysts or passivation layers are used.
PLD plasma plume analysis, a summary of the PSI contribution
We report on the properties of laser-induced plasma plumes generated by ns pulsed excimer lasers as used for pulsed laser deposition to prepare thin oxide films. A focus is on the time and spatial evolution of chemical species in the plasma plume as well as the mechanisms related to the plume expansion. The overall dynamics of such a plume is governed by the species composition in particular if three or more elements are involved. We studied the temporal evolution of the plume, the composition of the chemical species in the plasma, as well as their electric charge. In particular, ionized species can have an important influence on film growth. Likewise, the different oxygen sources contributing to the overall oxygen content of an oxide film are presented and discussed. Important for the growth of oxide thin films is the compositional transfer of light element such as oxygen or Li. We will show and discuss how to monitor these light elements using plasma spectroscopy and plasma imaging and outline some consequences of our experimental results.
Thin-Film Oxynitride Photocatalysts for Solar Hydrogen Generation: Separating Surface and Bulk Effects Using Synchrotron X-Ray and Neutron-Based Techniques
The conversion of solar light into hydrogen by photoelectrochemical water splitting is one of the potential strategies that can allow the development of a carbon-neutral energy cycle. Oxynitride semiconductors are promising materials for this application, although important limitations must still to be addressed. One of the most important issues is physicochemical degradation of the semiconductor, at the interface with water, where the electrochemical reactions occur. In this regard, thin films, with well-defined and atomically flat surfaces, are invaluable tools for characterizing material properties and degradation mechanisms, while identifying strategies to mitigate detrimental effects. Thin oxynitride films may allow the use of complementary characterizations, not applicable to conventional powder samples. In particular, the study of the solid–liquid interface can benefit enormously from the use of thin films for synchrotron-based surface-sensitive X-Ray scattering methods and neutron reflectometry. These investigation approaches promise to speed up the design and discovery of new materials for the production of solar fuels, while paving the way for similar applications in other research fields. This work aims at reviewing the literature contributions on oxynitride thin films for solar water splitting summarizing what is learnt so far and suggesting experimental strategies to unveil what is still not clear.
Role of Dy on the magnetic properties of orthorhombic DyFeO3
Orthoferrites are a class of magnetic materials with a magnetic ordering temperature above 600 K, predominant G-type antiferromagnetic ordering of the Fe-spin system and, depending on the rare-earth ion, a spin reorientation of the Fe spin taking place at lower temperatures. DyFeO3 is of particular interest since the spin reorientation is classified as a Morin transition with the transition temperature depending strongly on the Dy-Fe interaction. Here, we report a detailed study of the magnetic and structural properties of microcrystalline DyFeO3 powder and bulk single crystal using neutron diffraction and magnetometry between 1.5 and 450 K. We find that, while the magnetic properties of the single crystal are largely as expected, the powder shows strongly modified magnetic properties, including a modified spin reorientation and a smaller Dy-Fe interaction energy of the order of 10 μeV. Subtle structural differences between powder and single crystal show that they belong to distinct magnetic space groups. In addition, the Dy ordering at 2 K in the powder is incommensurate, with a modulation vector of 0.0173(5) c∗, corresponding to a periodicity of ∼58 unit cells.
Student projects at the Thin Films and Interfaces Group
Most of the time we have student projects related to the work we do. Just talk to us if you are interested in something we are working on not advertised on our pages.
Currently, we are looking for a Semester or Master Student on the topic of ferroelectric field effect transistors (FeFETs).
If anyone is interested, please contact Prof. Dr. Thomas Lippert (email@example.com) or Dr Nikita Shepelin (firstname.lastname@example.org).
PhD projects at the Thin Films and Interfaces Group
At present, we have no open PhD positions available. Other open positions are always published on the PSI Open Positions page.