Morphology and chemical termination of HF-etched Si3N4 surfaces


Many reports on the chemical termination of silicon nitride films after HF etching, an vital method within the microelectronics industry, are inconsistent claiming N-Hx, Si-H, or fluorine termination. An investigation combining infrared and x-ray photoelectron spectroscopies with atomic force and scanning electron microscopy imaging reveals that underneath some processing conditions, salt microcrystals are formed and stabilized on the surface, ensuing from product of Si3N4 etching. Rinsing in deionized water immediately when HF etching for a minimum of 30 s avoids such deposition and yields a swish surface without proof of Si-H termination. Instead, fluorine and oxygen are found to terminate a sizeable fraction of the surface in the form of Si-F and probably Si-OH bonds. The fluorine termination is remarkably stable in air and water vapor in ambient conditions, with clear implications on more surface chemical functionalization.

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