Real-time insight into nanostructure evolution during the rapid formation of ultra-thin gold layers on polymers†
Ultra-thin metal layers on polymer thin films attract tremendous research interest for advanced flexible optoelectronic applications, including organic photovoltaics, light emitting diodes and sensors. To realize the large-scale production of such metal–polymer hybrid materials, high rate sputter deposition is of particular interest. Here, we witness the birth of a metal–polymer hybrid material by quantifying in situ with unprecedented time-resolution of 0.5 ms the temporal evolution of interfacial morphology during the rapid formation of ultra-thin gold layers on thin polystyrene films. We monitor average non-equilibrium cluster geometries, transient interface morphologies and the effective near-surface gold diffusion. At 1 s sputter deposition, the polymer matrix has already been enriched with 1% gold and an intermixing layer has formed with a depth of over 3.5 nm. Furthermore, we experimentally observe unexpected changes in aspect ratios of ultra-small gold clusters growing in the vicinity of polymer chains. For the first time, this approach enables four-dimensional insights at atomic scales during the gold growth under non-equilibrium conditions.
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