Tutorial Course Descriptions

Detailed Syllabus

C-311 Thin Film Growth and Microstructure Evolution

This tutorial is intended for engineers, technicians, and others involved with the vapor deposition of thin films by sputtering, evaporation, MBE, CVD, GS-MBE, etc., and who need to obtain a better understanding of the effects of operating parameters on the properties of metal, semiconductor, and dielectric films and alloys. The tutorial is concentrated on the development of a detailed atomic-scale understanding of the primary experimental variables and surface reaction paths controlling nucleation/growth kinetics and microstructural evolution during vapor-phase deposition of thin films. The goal is to develop an appreciation of the advantages and disadvantages of competing growth techniques and to learn how to design better and more efficient film growth processes to achieve required properties.


Thin-film technology is pervasive in many advanced fields of modern technology including microelectronics, optics, magnetics, hard and corrosion-resistant coatings, micromechanics, etc. Progress in each of these areas depends upon the ability to selectively and controllably deposit thin films (thickness ranging from tens of Ångstroms to micrometers) with specified physical properties. This, in turn, requires control—often at the atomic level—of film microstructure and microchemistry.


Essential fundamental aspects, as well as the technology of thin-film nucleation and growth from the vapor phase (evaporation, MBE, sputtering, and CVD) are discussed in detail and highlighted with “real” examples. The tutorial begins with an introduction on substrate surfaces: structure, reconstruction, and adsorption/desorption kinetics. Nucleation processes are treated in detail using insights obtained from both in situ (RHEED, LEED, STM, AES, EELS, etc.) and post-deposition (TEM and AFM) analyses. The primary modes of nucleation include two-dimensional (step flow, layer-by-layer, and two-dimensional multilayer), three-dimensional, and Stranski-Krastanov. The fundamental limits of epitaxy will be discussed.


Experimental results and simulations will be used to illustrate processes controlling three-dimensional nucleation kinetics, island coalescence, clustering, secondary nucleation, column formation, preferred orientation, and microstructure evolution. The effects of low-energy ion-irradiation during deposition, as used in sputtering and plasma-CVD, will be discussed with examples.  The Tutorial course concludes with a detailed discussion of the origins, mechanisms, and control strategies, of intrinsic and extrinsic stresses in thin films.


Topical Outline:
  • The role of the substrate in mediating growth kinetics
  • The nucleation process
  • Film growth modes
  • Epitaxy
  • The development and control of film stress (strain engineering)
  • Nucleation and growth of strain-mediated self-organized structures
  • Polycrystalline film growth, texture, and microstructure evolution
  • Structure-zone models of film microstructure
  • The role of low-energy ion/surface interactions during film growth
  • The relationship between film growth parameters and film properties
Course Details:

Chapter 1. Introduction: surface structure and processes

  • surface energies: measurements and role in film growth
  • surface structure: examples of reconstruction and relaxation
  • terrace-step-kink structure: examples (STM)
    • step-edge barrier and kinetic roughening

Chapter 2. Nucleation

  • nanotechnology
  • thermodynamics of nucleation (a simple stability problem): examples
    • models
    • wetting angle: examples (TEM, STM, AFM)
  • kinetics of nucleation: examples (STM)
  • early stages of film growth (experiment and simulation): examples

Chapter 3.    2D step flow and layer-by-layer growth

  • introduction: Si on Si(001), a case study (STM)
  • 2D step flow
    • definition and requirements
    • possible to achieve?
    • role of buffer layers: examples
    • experimental observations using He atom, x-ray, and RHEED oscillations
  • layer-by-layer growth
    • definition and requirements
    • possible to achieve?
    • experimental observations using He atom, x-ray, and RHEED oscillations

Chapter 4.    2D multilayer growth

  • experimental observations: STM vs RHEED oscillations
  • simulations vs experimental observations
  • low-temperature epitaxy: fundamental limits
    • critical epitaxial temperature Tepi vs critical thickness tepi
  • techniques for increasing tepi
    • surfactants: examples (STM and RHEED oscillations)
    • hyperthermal beams: examples (XTEM)

Chapter 5.    Heteroepitaxy and the role of strain

  • elastic strain energy
  • edge, screw, and mixed dislocations: TEM, XTEM, & LEEM videos
  • relaxation mechanisms: elastic vs misfit disloc and surface energies
    • Misfit dislocations, critical thickness: examples
    • Surface roughening, islanding, S-K growth: examples
  • quantum dot engineering: examples (STM, XTEM))
  • superlattices

Chapter 6.    3-D polycrystalline growth and microstructure evolution

  • nucleation: examples (TEM)
  • coalescence: examples (TEM and STM videos)
  • coarsening: examples (TEM and STM videos)
  • grain growth: examples (TEM)
  • structure-zone models: experiment vs computer simulations

Chapter 7. Role of low-energy ion/surface interactions

  • density: examples (TEM, XTEM)
  • stress: examples (AFM, TEM)
  • texture: examples (XRD, XTEM)
  • chemistry: examples (AES, RBS)
  • thermal stress: examples
  • stress measurement: examples
  • tensile stress mechanisms: examples (TEM, XTEM)
  • ion-induced stress: examples (TEM)
  • compressive stress mechanisms: examples (XTEMS)
  • stress in superlattices and multilayer systems
  • texture evolution: examples (AFM, XTEM, simulation)


Instructor: Joe Greene, Willett Professor of Materials Science and Physics, University of Illinois
Joe Greene

is the D.B. Willett Professor of Materials Science and Physics, the Tage Erlander Professor of Materials Physics at Linkoping University, a Chaired Professor at the National Taiwan University of Science and Techology, and Past Director of the Frederick Seitz Materials Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois. The focus of his research has been the development of an atomic-level understanding of adatom/surface interactions during vapor-phase film growth in order to controllably manipulate microchemistry, microstructure, and physical properties. His work has involved film growth by all forms of sputter deposition (MBE, CVD, MOCVD, and ALE). He was President of the American Vacuum Society in 1989, a consultant for several research and development laboratories, and a visiting professor at several universities. Recent awards include receipt of the Aristotle Award from SRC (1998), the Adler Award from the American Physical Society (1998), Fellow of the American Vacuum Society (1993) and the American Physical Society (1998), the Turnbull Prize from the Materials Research Society (1999), Fellow of the Materials Research Society (2013), and the Mentor Award from SVC (2015). He was elected to the US National Academy of Engineering in 2003 and is the Editor-in-Chief of Thin Solid Films.

This course is currently available via:
On Location Education Program

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