The study of ultra-low energy deposition of hydrogenated amorphous carbon thin films

  • Teodor Zaharia

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis is dedicated to the production and analysis of thin hydrogenated amorphous carbon films. A cascaded arc plasma source was used to produce a high density plasma of hydrocarbon radicals that deposited on a substrate at ultra low energies. The work was intended to create a better understanding of the mechanisms responsible for the film formation, by an extensive analysis on the properties of the films in correlation with the conditions used in the plasma cell.
Two different precursors were used: methane and acetylene. They revealed a very different picture for the mechanism of film formation and properties. Methane was less successful, and the films formed were soft, with poor adhesion to the substrate and decomposing with time. Acetylene was the better option, and the films formed in this case were harder, with better adhesion to the substrate and stable over time. The plasma parameters could be varied to change the character of films, from polymer-like to diamond-like carbon.
Films deposited from methane were grown at low deposition rates, which increased with the increase in process pressure and source power and decreased with the increase in substrate temperature and in hydrogen fraction in the carrier gas. The films had similar hydrogen content, sp3 fractions, average roughness (Ra) and low hardness. Above a deposition temperature of 350°C graphitization occurred - an increase in the sp2 fraction.
A deposition mechanism was proposed, based upon the reaction product of the dissociative recombination of CH4+. There were small differences between the chemistries in the plasma at low and high precursor flow rates and low and high substrate temperatures; all experimental conditions led to formation of films that were either polymer-like, soft amorphous hydrogenated carbon or graphitic-like in structure.
Films deposited from acetylene were grown at much higher deposition rates on different substrates (silicon, glass and plastics). The film quality increased noticeably with the increase of relative acetylene to argon flow rate, up to a certain value, where saturation occurred. With the increase in substrate temperature and the lowering of the acetylene injection ring position further improvements in film quality were achieved. The deposition process was scaled up to large area (5 x 5 cm) substrates in the later stages of the project.
A deposition mechanism was proposed, based upon the reaction products of the dissociative recombination of C2H2 +. There were large differences between the chemistry in the plasma at low and medium/high precursor flow rates. This corresponded to large differences in film properties from low to medium flow rates, when films changed their character from polymer-like to diamond-like, whereas the differences between films deposited at medium and high precursor flow rates were small.
Modelling of the film growth on silicon substrates was initiated and it explained the formation of sp2 and sp3 bonds at these very low energies. However, further improvements to the model are needed.

Date of AwardMar 2007
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorJohn L Sullivan (Supervisor)


  • cascade arc plasma source
  • DLC films
  • sp3 fraction
  • nanohardness
  • hydrogen content

Cite this