Insight on the silver catalyst distribution during silicon nanowire array formation: an X-ray reflectivity study
Although metal-catalysts are commonly used to create nanoscale materials at surfaces, little is quantitatively known or understood about the depth distribution profile of the catalyst during the growth process. Using X-ray reflectivity, we report the first quantitative investigation, with nanoscale resolution, of the Ag metal-catalyst depth distribution profile during metal-assisted chemical etch (MACE) growth of Si nanowire (SiNW) arrays on Si(100). Given the very low optical reflectivity of these nanowire arrays, specular reflection from these materials in the X-ray region is extremely challenging to measure because it probes interfaces on the nanoscale. Nevertheless, we demonstrate that with suitable investigation, X-ray specular reflection can be measured and utilized to obtain unique structural information about the composition profile of both Ag and Si. The measurements, which also include X-ray diffraction and complementary electron microscopy, reveal that the Ag nanoparticles distribute along the length of the nanowires upon etching with a Ag density that increases towards the etch front. The Ag nanoparticles coarsen with etch time, indicating a high mobility of Ag ions even though we also find that the Ag does not migrate from the SiNW region into the etch bath during etching. The Ag density gradient and the Ag mobility suggest the existence of a strong chemical force that attracts Ag towards the etch front. These results provide unique and important new insight into the growth process for creating SiNWs from wet chemical etching using metal-catalysts.