Patterning and control of the nanostructure in plasma thin films with acoustic waves: mechanical vs. electrical polarization effects†
Nanostructuration and 2D patterning of thin films are common strategies to fabricate biomimetic surfaces and components for microfluidic, microelectronic or photonic applications. This work presents the fundamentals of a surface nanotechnology procedure for laterally tailoring the nanostructure and crystalline structure of thin films that are plasma deposited onto acoustically excited piezoelectric substrates. Using magnetron sputtering as plasma technique and TiO2 as case example, it is demonstrated that the deposited films depict a sub-millimetre 2D pattern that, characterized by large lateral differences in nanostructure, density (up to 50%), thickness, and physical properties between porous and dense zones, reproduces the wave features distribution of the generated acoustic waves (AW). Simulation modelling of the AW propagation and deposition experiments carried out without plasma and under alternative experimental conditions reveal that patterning is not driven by the collision of ad-species with mechanically excited lattice atoms of the substrate, but emerges from their interaction with plasma sheath ions locally accelerated by the AW-induced electrical polarization field developed at the substrate surface and growing film. The possibilities of the AW activation as a general approach for the tailored control of nanostructure, pattern size, and properties of thin films are demonstrated through the systematic variation of deposition conditions and the adjustment of AW operating parameters.