Bias-induced spatially resolved growth and removal of Si-oxide by atomic force microscopy
Three mechanisms for spatially resolved growth and removal of oxide on silicon substrates have been investigated. Thermally grown oxide layers with thicknesses in the range 2-6 nm were the distinctive feature of the system. The layers were characterized and manipulated by methodologies based on atomic force microscopy (AFM) with conducting probes in a vacuum environment of 10-2-10-3 Pa. The probe is then effectively a travelling electrode that generates an electrostatic field between the tip and the substrate. Oxide growth was induced for a positive sample bias greater than 5 V, but below the level corresponding to dielectric breakdown. Application of a short pulse of amplitude marginally above that corresponding to dielectric breakdown, on the other hand, had the effect of producing pits of inner diameter of about 10 nm in the pre-existing oxide layer at the point of tip-to-oxide contact. Application of a low positive sample bias (less than that required for measurable oxide growth) in combination with high linear scan speed had the effect of removing a pre-existing oxide layer from the scanned field of view. The most plausible mechanisms are based on transverse ionic diffusion (for oxide growth), controlled dielectric breakdown (for formation of pits) and lateral transport of silicaceous species (for oxide removal).
Applied Physics A: materials science & processing