Electronic properties of nano-crystalline titanium dioxide thin films

Titanium dioxide is a cheap, chemically stable and non-toxic material. However its electrical properties are unstable and it is a modest semiconductor and a mediocre insulator. For several applications it would be interesting to make it either more insulating or more conducting. The goal of this work was to modify the electrical properties of nano-crystalline TiO2 thin films deposited by reactive sputtering and to understand the mechanism leading to these modifications. The principal factors that influence the electrical conductivity are on the one hand the concentration and nature of the chemical impurities incorporated in TiO2, and on the other hand the morphology of the thin films. The study was split into two parts. The fist part describes the modifications of the sputtered material obtained by chemical doping of the TiO2 thin films. Niobium, cerium, iron, and fluorine were incorporated successfully in TiO2. The second part describes the modifications obtained by modifying the reactive gas used during the sputtering process: thus oxygen was substituted with water vapor. Several analysis techniques have been used to characterize the TiO2 thin films. They are essentially divided in four categories. The chemical analyses included electron probe microanalyses, x-ray photoemission spectroscopy, and secondary ion mass spectrometry. The structure and morphology analyses of thin films were carried out with x-ray diffraction and atomic force microscopy. The electrical properties in dc or ac mode were measured between room temperature and 350°C. Finally optical transmission provided information on the electronic states and morphology of the thin films. With an appropriate choice of impurities, titanium dioxide can be made more insulating (TiO2:Ce), more conducting with an n-type electrical conductivity (TiO2:Nb) or p-type electrical conductivity (TiO2:Fe). Chemical doping is also the cause of important structure and morphology changes, for example it can force the transformation from the anatase to the rutile structure. It is shown in particular that dopant atoms generate defects such as oxygen vacancies. These defects impede the variation of the electrical conductivity produced by the impurities, thus, in spite of dopant concentration in the percent range, the variation of the electrical conductivity is an increase or a decrease of three order of magnitude at most when compared with undoped TiO2. Thin films deposited with water vapor as the reactive gas present an increase in the electrical conductivity by height order of magnitude compared to samples prepared with oxygen in similar conditions. No atom other than titanium or oxygen could be detected in the thin films in significant concentration. The dramatic conductivity increase is due to the injection inside TiO2 grains of electrons donated by unsaturated titanium atoms lying on the grain surface. A nanometric grain size is a requirement to make such high doping levels possible. Depending on the impurities or reactive gas selected, titanium dioxide can be made either into a good insulator with a high breakdown field and a high permittivity or into a reasonably conducting, transparent film. The electrical conductivity of the samples prepared for this study cover the range from 10-10 to 103 S m-1.

Schmid, Philippe E.
Lausanne, EPFL

 Record created 2005-03-16, last modified 2018-03-17

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