Direct Imaging of Dopant Distribution in Polycrystalline ZnO Films

Fanni Lorenzo*, A. Brian Aebersold, Monica Morales-Masis, Martin Ledinský, Stéphane Escrig, Aliaksei Vetushka, Duncan T.L. Alexander, Aïcha Hessler-Wyser, Antonín Fejfar, Cécile Hébert, Sylvain Nicolay, Christophe Ballif

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
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Two fundamental requirements of transparent conductive oxides are high conductivity and low optical absorptance, properties strongly dependent on the free-carrier concentration of the film. The free-carrier concentration is usually tuned by the addition of dopant atoms; which are commonly assumed to be uniformly distributed in the films or partially segregated at grain boundaries. Here, the combination of secondary ion mass spectroscopy at the nanometric scale (NanoSIMS) and Kelvin probe force microscopy (KPFM) allows direct imaging of boron-dopant distribution in polycrystalline zinc oxide (ZnO) films. This work demonstrates that the boron atoms have a bimodal spatial distribution within each grain of the ZnO films. NanoSIMS analysis shows that boron atoms are preferentially incorporated into one of the two sides of each ZnO grain. KPFM measurements confirm that boron atoms are electrically active, locally increasing the free-carrier concentration in the film. The proposed cause of this nonuniform dopant distribution is the different sticking coefficient of Zn adatoms on the two distinct surface terminations of the ZnO grains. The higher sticking coefficient of Zn on the c+ surface restricts the boron incorporation on this side of the grains, resulting in preferential boron incorporation on the c- side and causing the bimodal distribution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7241-7248
Number of pages8
JournalACS applied materials & interfaces
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • dopant distribution
  • film polarity
  • grain boundaries
  • NanoSIMS
  • polycrystalline film
  • zinc oxide


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