Room temperature oxygen exchange and diffusion in nanometer-thick ZrO2 and MoO3 films

Cristiane Regina Stilhano Vilas Boas, J.M. Sturm*, Igor Milov, Parikshit Phadke, F. Bijkerk

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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The diffusion of oxygen in thin films of ZrO2 and MoO3 was investigated with atomic 18O as a tracer using low energy ion scattering sputter depth profiling. 3 nm amorphous and 20 nm polycrystalline films were prepared by reactive magnetron sputtering and exposed to atomic oxygen species at room temperature. Exposure results in a fast diffusion of oxygen to a limited depth of ∼1 nm and ∼2.5 nm for ZrO2 and MoO3, respectively, and surface exchange limited to a maximum of 65% to 75%. The influence of the crystalline structure of the films on exchange and diffusion was negligible. We propose that the transport of oxygen in oxides at room temperature is dominated by a field-induced drift, generated by the chemisorption of reactive oxygen species. The maximum penetration of oxygen is limited by the oxide space charge region, determined by the oxide electrical properties. We applied a drift–diffusion model to extract values of surface potential and kinetic parameters of oxygen exchange and diffusion. The developed experimental analysis and modelling suggest that the electric field and consequent distribution of charged species are the main factors governing exchange rates and species diffusion in an oxide thin film at room temperature.
Original languageEnglish
Article number149384
JournalApplied surface science
Early online date26 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2021


  • UT-Hybrid-D
  • Thin films
  • Space charge layer
  • Transition metal oxides
  • low temperature
  • low energy ion scattering
  • Isotope exchange
  • Low energy ion scattering
  • Low temperature


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