Surface phenomena during plasma-assisted atomic layer etching of SiO2

R.J. Gasvoda, A.W. van de Steeg, R. Bhowmick, E.A. Hudson, S. Agarwal

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45 Citations (Scopus)


Surface phenomena during atomic layer etching (ALE) of SiO2 were studied during sequential half-cycles of plasma-assisted fluorocarbon (CFx) film deposition and Ar plasma activation of the CFx film using in situ surface infrared spectroscopy and ellipsometry. Infrared spectra of the surface after the CFx deposition half-cycle from a C4F8/Ar plasma show that an atomically thin mixing layer is formed between the deposited CFx layer and the underlying SiO2 film. Etching during the Ar plasma cycle is activated by Ar+ bombardment of the CFx layer, which results in the simultaneous removal of surface CFx and the underlying SiO2 film. The interfacial mixing layer in ALE is atomically thin due to the low ion energy during CFx deposition, which combined with an ultrathin CFx layer ensures an etch rate of a few monolayers per cycle. In situ ellipsometry shows that for a ∼4 Å thick CFx film, ∼3-4 Å of SiO2 was etched per cycle. However, during the Ar plasma half-cycle, etching proceeds beyond complete removal of the surface CFx layer as F-containing radicals are slowly released into the plasma from the reactor walls. Buildup of CFx on reactor walls leads to a gradual increase in the etch per cycle.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31067-31075
Number of pages9
JournalACS Applied Materials & Interfaces
Issue number36
Publication statusPublished - 13 Sept 2017


  • atomic layer etching
  • ellipsometry
  • infrared spectroscopy
  • interface engineering
  • plasma processing


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