Growth of Poly- and Single-crystal ScN on MgO(001): Role of Low-energy N+2 Irradiation in Determining Texture, Microstructure Evolution, and Mechanical Properties

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ScN layers, 345 nm thick, were grown on MgO(001) substrates at 750 °C by ultrahigh-vacuum reactive magnetron sputter deposition in pure N2 discharges at 5 mTorr. The N+2 to Sc ratio incident at the substrate and growing film was maintained constant at 14, while the ion energy EN+2 was varied from 13 to 50 eV. All films were stoichiometric with N/Sc ratios of 1.00±0.02. However, microstructural and surface morphological evolution were found to depend strongly on EN+2 . The nucleation and initial growth stages of ScN films deposited with EN+2 =13 eV are dominated by the formation of 111- and 002-oriented islands, but preferred orientation rapidly evolves toward a purely 111 texture by a film thickness of ≃50 nm as 002 grains grow out of existence in a kinetically limited competitive growth mode. In distinct contrast, films deposited with EN+2 =20 eV grow in a cube-on-cube epitaxial relationship with the substrate and exhibit no indication of 111-oriented grains, even in the earliest stages. Increasing EN+2 to 50 eV still results in epitaxial layers, but with high in-plane compressive stress and the presence of N2 gas bubbles. All epitaxial layers contain rectangular nanopipes ≃1 nm wide and aligned along the growth direction. The nanopipes result from atomic shadowing near the bottom of a periodic array of surface cusps which form along orthogonal 〈100〉 directions due to kinetic roughening during growth. The hardness H and elastic modulus E of the epitaxial ScN(001) layer grown with EN+2 =20 eV are 21.1±1.1 and 356±18 GPa, respectively. H and E increase (decrease) with increasing (decreasing) EN+2.