Phase decomposition in nanocrystalline Cr0.8Cu0.2 thin films

Chakraborty, J. and Harzer, T.P. and Duarte, M.J. and Dehm, G.

Volume: 888 Pages:
DOI: 10.1016/j.jallcom.2021.161391
Published: 2021

Metastable Cr0.8Cu0.2 alloy thin films with nominal thickness of 360 nm have been deposited on Si(100) substrate by co-evaporation of Cu and Cr using molecular beam epitaxy (MBE). Phase evolution, microstructure, stress development, and crystallographic texture in Cr0.8Cu0.2 thin films have been investigated by X-ray diffraction (XRD), atom probe tomography (APT) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM) combined with energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDS) during annealing of the films in the temperature range 200–450 °C. X-ray diffraction of the as-deposited thin film shows single phase bcc crystal structure of the film whereas APT observation of fine precipitates in the film matrix due to inherent compositional fluctuation indicates onset of phase separation via spinodal decomposition regime. XRD (in-situ) and APT investigation of 300 °C annealed film reveals that the early stage of phase separation involves localized formation of metastable intermediate bcc precipitate phase having 60 at% Cr and 40 at% Cu approximately (~Cr0.6Cu0.4). For longer duration of annealing at temperature ≥350 °C, such metastable bcc precipitates act as heterogeneous nucleation sites for the onset of precipitation of Cu rich fcc Cu(Cr) phase which indicates a change of phase separation mechanism from ‘spinodal decomposition’ to ‘nucleation and growth’. Annealing of the film at temperature ≥400 °C for longer duration leads to the formation of a two phase structure with Cu rich fcc precipitate phase in a Cr rich bcc matrix. Observed phase decomposition is accompanied by significant changes in the microstructure, residual stress and crystallographic texture in the Cr rich bcc film matrix which leads to the minimization of both surface and strain energies and thereby a reduction of total Gibbs free energy of the thin film. Thermodynamic model calculation has been presented in order to understand the nucleation pathway of Cu rich stable fcc Cu(Cr) precipitates via non-classical nucleation of metastable intermediate bcc Cr0.6Cu0.4 phase. © 2021 Elsevier B.V.

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