A device has been developed that can be used for the real-time monitoring of ultrathin (2 Å or more) conductive films. The device responds in less than two microseconds, and can be used to monitor film depositions up to about 60 Å thick. Actual thickness monitoring capability will vary based on properties of the film being deposited. This is a single-use device, which, due to the very low device cost, can be disposable.

Conventional quartz/crystal microbalance devices have proven inadequate to monitor the thickness of Pd films during deposition of ultrathin films for hydrogen sensor devices. When the deposited film is less than 100 Å, the QCM measurements are inadequate to allow monitoring of the ultrathin films being developed. Thus, an improved, high-sensitivity, real-time deposition monitor was needed to continue Pd film deposition development.

The new deposition monitor utilizes a surface acoustic wave (SAW) device in a differential delay-line configuration to produce both a reference response and a response for the portion of the device on which the film is being deposited. Both responses are monitored simultaneously during deposition. The reference response remains unchanged, while the attenuation of the sensing path (where the film is being deposited) varies as the film thickness increases.

This device utilizes the fact that on high-coupling piezoelectric substrates, the attenuation of an SAW undergoes a transition from low to very high, and back to low as the conductivity of a film on the device surface goes from nonconductive to highly conductive. Thus, the sensing path response starts with a low insertion loss, and as a conductive film is deposited, the film conductivity increases, causing the device insertion loss to increase dramatically (by up to 80 dB or more), and then with continued film thickness increases (and the corresponding conductivity increases), the device insertion loss goes back down to the low level at which it started. This provides a continuous, real-time monitoring of film deposition. For use with different films, the device would need to be calibrated to provide an understanding of how film thickness is related to film conductivity, as the device is responding primarily to conductivity effects (and not to mass loading effects) in this ultrathin film regime.

This work was done by Jacqueline Hines of Applied Sensor Research & Development Corp. for Glenn Research Center.

Inquiries concerning rights for the commercial use of this invention should be addressed to NASA Glenn Research Center, Innovative Partnerships Office, Attn: Steven Fedor, Mail Stop 4–8, 21000 Brookpark Road, Cleveland, Ohio 44135. Refer to LEW-18651-1.

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the May, 2011 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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